by Walter and Rosemary Brasch
The filibuster is at the core of the U.S. senate.
It’s also why nothing of much significance has been done the past decade.
Under Senate rules, senators can filibuster any legislation. They can just stand up and start talking. They can talk about anything they wish. They can read from telephone books, or even take bathroom breaks. They can also yield the floor to like-minded senators.
Even a threat of a filibuster—it doesn’t have to be carried out—is enough to stop legislation.
Senate rules require that 60 percent of the senate must vote to stop a filibuster. Knowing this, the Republicans, a minority party in the Senate, have consistently blocked legislation just by threatening to filibuster anything they didn’t agree with—not even allowing it to come to the floor for discussion.
Almost 70 percent of all filibuster threats occurred since 2000.
Now, let’s travel to Texas. That state has the most restrictive rules on filibusters in the nation. A senator who filibusters legislation must be the only one. She or he must stay on topic and not take any bathroom breaks.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat and a 50-year-old Harvard graduate lawyer, put on a pair of comfortable pink sneakers this week, and talked for more than 11 hours to block an oppressive Republican-sponsored bill to kill almost all of the state’s medical abortion clinics and impose their governmental will upon all women.
She succeeded—somewhat. The Republicans said she deviated from the topic twice—once when she talked about Planned Parenthood budgeting, once when she discussed sonograms. Once she took a brief break while a fellow senator adjusted her back brace. Three strikes, and the Republicans called her out.
But, there was so much confusion and shouting in the chambers that it wasn’t until after midnight, when the special session ended, that the Senate voted on the bill and passed it. Even then it wasn’t a problem. The Republican majority just made believe the vote occurred before midnight, and had the vote computer-coded as if it occurred before midnight. With several hundred thousand outraged Texas citizens shouting their disapproval, three hours later the lieutenant governor, presiding over the Senate, turned tail, admitted the vote occurred after the deadline, and aborted it.
Enter Rick Perry, the super conservative showboating Texas governor who couldn’t even make it into the semi-finals of the Presidential race. He announced he would call yet another special session. The first one, created to sneak through the legislation, had failed. He was gambling that Sen. Davis would not have the endurance to filibuster the bill a second time.
And then Gov. Perry threw in some personal attacks at Sen. Davis, the courageous woman who tried to block the government’s intrusion into women’s lives. First, he attacked Sen. Davis for having been a teenage mother. And then he attacked her for her filibuster, which he said was “nothing more than hijacking the democratic process.” He later claimed that those who believed in a woman’s right to choose “will resort to mob tactics to force their minority agenda on the people of Texas.”
Here’s some truth for the reality-impaired governor. You and your party can’t have it both ways. If a filibuster hijacks democracy, as you claim, then demand a change in the rules in the U.S. Senate. Demand the U.S. senate tighten restrictions on filibusters so that a simple majority of 51, not a super-majority of 60, can stop a filibuster that blocks the will of the majority to get meaningful legislation passed.
[Dr. Walter Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, a look at the health, environmental, economic, and political issues. Rosemary R. Brasch is a retired secretary, labor activist and college instructor.]