The Rules of Wasting Time

by Alexander Roux

Widener University Political Science Major

Recently the U.S. Senate has been discussing negotiations on a long existing tactic afforded to Senators, the ability to filibuster.  Via their institution’s rules, Senators can speak as long as they want on a specific bill during that bill’s debate phase.  One of the stereotypes surrounding this special tool of the Senate is that the minority party can use this tactic to stall and holdout a vote for as long as possible.

Filibustering does need reform, but it needs to go back to what the tool was originally.  Before1975 if a Senator wished to attempt blocking a vote and extend debate they were required to hold the floor of the Senate during that time, not return to their offices, or begin discussing the next piece of legislation.  In the 1930’s Senator Huey Long filibustered on the floor for over 15 hours while promoting his policies, his speech included reading Shakespeare and recipes for “pot-likkers.”  In 1946 Dennis Chavez’s filibuster lasted weeks, and in 1957 Senator Storm Thurmond’s filibuster lasted a record 24 hours and 18 minutes that included discussing his grandmother’s biscuit recipe.  Speeches lasting almost a day that required cots to be brought in may be a little extreme but it forced Senators to do their jobs.

Our Congress needs to see the return of rules that require them to stay in the Capitol and actually leave having accomplished and voted on proposed bills.  Maybe returning the filibuster to what it initially was could have a small impact on Congressmen, and if they were required to actually hold the floor maybe they wouldn’t use the stall tactic at all to threaten their fellow Congressmen.  However you feel on  the usage of filibustering I feel one thing is certain, changes made to the filibuster should make our Senators more accountable and require that they actually have to do the work associated with this special privilege they afford themselves.

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