Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Guide To The Filibuster

The process which I will show in three separate videos is when the senate experiences a filibuster.  The definition of a filibuster found in the United States Senate webpage is an " Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions."  Essentially a Senator or a group of Senators hold the floor and refuse to yield it to another senator from the opposing view hoping that if they keep talking, the bill will en up being dropped or the senators become weary of talking.  Filibusters rarely occur however because they can only be used if the Unanimous Consent Agreement is not in place.   A filibuster might not just be a Senator talking about the legislation but rather doing things like adding amendments to the bill and debate them or even ask for a quorum call which would keep senators there for a long time.  As one can see, the main goal is to hold the floor and not yield to anyone even if you are alone.      Filibuster's rarely happen as well because the usually are Senator's last option in stopping legislation because it stops all floor action on any legislation and it is not ideal for Senate proceedings.  Senators mostly use Filibusters as threatening tools it seems like in order to show how they feel about the bill and perhaps, prevent it from being passed.  According to the United States Senate webpage, historically, civil right issues were the most commonly filibustered issue.  Many southern senators would use this to block civil rights legislation.  One way to end a filibuster is by cloture which is the ability of the supermajority to end debate immediately and any senator can file a motion of cloture as long as sixteen senators have signed it.  If cloture ends up being invoked, the Senators have thirty hours to debate or add amendments.  After the thirty hours a vote will be taken on the legislation.  The next three videos will show what a threatened filibuster can do and when one is in affect, how the Senate reacts and how the proceedings go.  

This video demonstrates a filibuster by Senator Alfonse D'Amato from New York.  He was a republican and wished to hold up the bill and did this by answering questions from colleagues, reciting names and controlling the Senate for over 15 hours.  The session lasted 33 hours overall and it was an issue that was important for the Republicans because it weeks before a tough re-election in a Democratic-leaning state.  The issue was over a small typewriter company in Cortland, N.Y.  and Senator D'Amato wanted to hold the bill up because it would have caused the loss of 750 jobs in Cortland, N.Y.  He even sings a song called "South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)" during his filibuster.  The video is not the whole session but just the start to end of his filibuster and one can look through to see how he was able to hold the bill up for over 15 hours. 


The next video is Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introducing a a bill to reform the cloture procedure in the United States Senate because of how he felt about the filibuster.  The key quote during his time to speak really shows how he feels about the filibuster and one can hear it at the 1:29:55 mark.  He was a Democratic growing tired of Republicans using the filibuster to kill good bills that would help working Americans.  He believes special interest drives Senators to use the filibuster and doesn't want it to be 60 votes to invoke cloture but rather 51 Senators.    
This video shows how Senators feel about the filibuster and how it can be used unfairly in the Senate.


The next video shows Senator Dick Durban from Illinois.  This video is brief and not as in depth but shows how the threat of a filibuster can really empower a minority power and scare the majority power at the time.  Although during his time of speaking, he is speaking about the banks, he makes it a point to show how the American people are noticing that the minority party can hold up a bill and gives them a leverage in matters on the floor.  

In conclusion,  I view the filibuster as a good and bad thing.  I understand that the U.S. cannot be majority rule and was not built on that belief and the minority should be protected by the ability to use the filibuster. However, I do find it unfair at times to the American people that important bills that can be beneficial to the them should be held up for so long and thus put of because of a filibuster or a threat of one because of the minority party or even the special interests of a Senator or group of Senators.  I understand that it is important that all of the Senate should be under agreement under a bill but a filibuster today is used for the wrong reasons at times and is abused.  I do believe it should be reformed to have less votes to end a filibuster or perhaps, an automatic limit on debate where it doesn't last as long as one Senator wants.  However, the more I come to understand filibusters, the more I realize that reforms are hard because the issue of the filibuster depends on where you sit in the Senate chamber, whether it be with majority party or the minority party.  As this is always changing, reform for the filibuster will be difficult to come by.

No comments:

Post a Comment