Filibuster

In Military Support for War Dropping? Noah Shachtman says in an aside For the life of me, I cannot understand what the hell Harry Reid and company are doing, other than staging some odd political kabuki theater.

It seems pretty obvious to me what he (Reid) was trying to do, but I’m not sure it worked. He wanted to stage a spectacle of Republicans making speeches to stall Senate business in order to continue an unpopular war.

But the angle that everybody seems to be taking is that it’s all the Democrats’ fault for making everybody stay up night. When it reality it was the Republicans who were holding a good old fashioned filibuster.

However it’s been so long since anybody actually staged a filibuster that the press seems to have forgotten what they are.  Senate rules say that as long as a Senator has something to say about a bill he can say it and the vote can’t happen until everybody is done talking.  A filibuster happens when a Senator or group of Senators make a continuous series of speeches to delay the vote until the majority gives up and calls off the vote.   The filibuster can only be ended by a vote of at least 60 Senators.

What has happened in recent years is that a group of Senators merely has to threaten a filibuster and if the majority can’t muster 60 votes to cut it off then the vote is dropped and the filibuster never actually takes place.  This has gone on for so long that now when the majority isn’t scared off by the threat of a filibuster and makes the minority follow through and actually filibuster the press and public think that it is the majority that is somehow being irresponsible rather than the minority.

Reid hoped that the filibuster last night would make the Republicans look like obstructionists but perversely the prevailing wisdom (at least so far) seems to be that it is the Democrats that were behaving foolishly.

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