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Imagine you’re standing in a room with a group of your peers. You’ve all been taking turns proposing ideas for a project you’ve been working on, and tensions are high. Despite the undercurrents of disagreement, you can feel that you’re almost finished. The next person steps up to talk.
This person breaks out the local phone book and proceeds to read it out loud on the floor. He does not stop. He does not break character. The only thing he breaks is your chance of getting any real work done.
If this sounds absurd to you, that’s because it is. But this hypothetical scene is all too real in Congress, where politicians have actually have read the phone book, Shakespeare and food recipes on the floor during filibusters.
Filibustering has become a problem, especially within the Senate, which, along with the House of Representatives, makes up our bicameral Congress. A filibuster is the act of continuously talking on the floor to delay a vote on a bill. The way it works is basically this: Don’t have the votes to defeat a bill? Just keep talking until everyone gives up and decides to move on to something else. Even more strategic (or underhanded) is when someone filibusters near the end of a Congressional session until everyone has to go home for the year, thus killing the bill.
This seems like a ridiculous thing to do. In theory, the filibuster is supposed to help the minority party fight for its opinion; when they can’t win in a vote, the filibuster is the weapon of choice.
But these days, the filibuster is used to block votes at every chance. The Republican party is the minority in the Senate and, in an effort to thwart the Democratic majority’s influence, has stooped so low as to block appointments of federal judges; there are 31 seats in the federal courts that, due to Republican filibustering, simply don’t have judges.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided, to be frank, to cut the crap, invoking the “nuclear option” two weeks ago as a proposal to change filibuster rules.
Under existing rules, it takes 60 votes to enact “cloture,” which means putting an end to a filibuster. Since Democrats hold less than 60 seats in the Senate (there are 100 seats total), there is virtually no stopping a Republican filibuster. To get around this, Reid proposed a rule change that would make cloture possible with a majority of 51 votes. The rule change passed, 52 to 48.
The change is for judicial appointments only — Democrats can stop a filibuster against proposed judges, but not regular bills. But this may lead to future changes that weaken the filibuster against bill proposals.
People will inevitably decry such a change. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has criticized the move, along with other Republicans. But it is clearly time to change filibuster rules — not too long ago, McConnell became the first senator in history to filibuster his own bill. When people are filibustering themselves, I think it might be time to reconsider.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz made headlines in September for carrying on for 21 hours on the Senate floor, reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” while protesting the Affordable Care Act. At this point, the Senate floor is a place where anything goes — the filibuster shouldn’t be allowed to be abused by people who make a mockery of government.
If you were going about your daily life and I came up and began reading Dr. Seuss books to distract you, you wouldn’t sit and tolerate that. You would snatch the book out of my hands and tell me to leave. Senators shouldn’t tolerate such behavior any more than you would; when there are judges that need to be appointed and bills that need to be passed, abusing the filibuster has no place. We can only hope for more changes to the filibuster in the future — there might be hope for this “do-nothing” Congress after all.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ellis Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org.