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May 26, 2005

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if filibuster was part of our everyday vernacular? The funny sounding word is in the news right now because the United States Senate is considering doing away with the legislative stalling tactic that allows its members to delay or even prevent a matter from coming to a vote.

Why donít they just call it stalling? Where did filibuster come from? It actually dates back to the 1800ís when a group of Portuguese pirates were referred to as ďfilibusterosĒ. Does anyone else find it odd that not only is there a legislative tool named after pirates, but that this tactic has endured long after the naval bandits have expired?

Not only does the word have an interesting history, but the tool has some intriguing records as well. Iím a statistics guy, so Iíll share these engaging facts with you. How about the longest ever filibuster Ė that mark goes to South Carolinaís Strom Thurman who had the Senate floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes as he stalled a vote on the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Thurmonís fellow southern senators filibustered for a combined 57 days to stall the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I think the senate is lacking any real athletes. Iíve been in the middle of some family chit-chat sessions that would put any of these filibuster records to shame. If you want a filibustering senator for Missouri Iíve got several candidates that visit my house on a regular basis.

Itís funny that Missouri has some claim to fame in defending the tactic. Back in the 1840ís the filibuster came under fire but it was Missouriís Thomas Hart Benton that led the fight to keep the legislative tool. Finally commons sense prevailed to a degree some 75 years later when the cloture was invented. Rule 22, passed in 1914 during President Woodrow Wilsonís tenure, allowed the senate to end debate and call a vote if approved by two thirds of the majority. Then again, how many times do you get two thirds of the Senate to vote on something, especially if it involves a party split, which generally is the source of the filibuster. In 1975 they reduced the number from two thirds to three fifths, meaning it now only takes 60 of the 100 senators to get fed up with the mindless blabbing in order to get it stopped so the lawmakers can proceed with real business.

Maybe the Senate should rent the movie ďMaster and CommanderĒ and watch it on the senate floor. And just maybe someone will be inspired by Russell Croweís character and will finally sink this pirate ship that in my opinion has no place in modern politics.

Come on people Ė how many other walks in life allow the losing party to tie up the airwaves in a simple waste of time with only one hope, to bore the winning side into submission?

Either Congress should get rid of the filibuster, or they should let all of us use it.

I can see it now, when the IRS calls me asking why I havenít paid my taxes yet. Iíll launch into hour after hour of pointless conversation until the operator finally concedes and hangs up the phone.

The filibuster definitely could come in handy when you get that unwanted dinner invite, or when your wife wants to know what all youíve accomplished on her honey-do list. I can rattle off the entire statistics for the 2005 major league baseball season and if thatís not enough Iíll talk about the postal code as it relates to periodicals. If theyíre not snoring by the time Iím done, Iím quite certain they will at least have forgotten what they wanted from me.

Of course in the real world, we canít stall the IRS or our wives with a filibuster. If I tried to talk my way out of mowing the yard or paying my income tax, I would get laughed out of the room and told not to come back until the grass was cut and I had submitted my check complete with penalties, late fees and my first born child.

So why should the Senate be allowed to use this antiquated waste of time? We elect these people to make a decision. We live by the idea of majority rule. So cast your vote already and live with the fact youíre either going to win or lose.


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