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Senate Republicans: Do they have the guts to force Democrat filibusters?
By Margo Carlisle
Republicans are today appropriately applauding President Bush for his
remarkable "expenditure of political capital" in pursuit of
the congressional victories needed to provide legislative support for
his policies. While public understanding of that truism is unimportant
as long as the White House understands it, another, more apropos truth
is widely misunderstood.
The second is a post-election, worrisome mistake. Americans seem to think, now that the President has a majority in both houses of Congress, that he has no excuse for failing to achieve his objectives. Beyond homeland security, the budget, tax cuts, and the whole agenda will be able to sail through Congress.
This indeed represents a sea change from the days of leadership by Tom
Daschle (D-SD), who forbade committees to report any nominations or legislation
not specifically requested by the Democrat majority; i.e. Tom Daschle.
This is because he feared Democrat cooperation with Republicans on a number
Floor debate is thereby ensured, but passage is not. In the Senate, an arcane requirement called Rule XXII, means that if a measure is filibustered, sixty votes are required to shut off debate and vote the matter up or down. Therefore, a Democrat minority will still be able to stop any legislation or nominee for which they can muster forty-one votes, a number not difficult for a party known for its discipline and one which has forty nine members from which to seek votes.
So filibusters then, again, become the issue. Historically there have
been two ways to filibuster. In the old days, Senators strapped on a catheter
and prepared for twenty-four hours of talking, until someone collapsed.
Yes, it tested physical endurance, but it certainly focused the country's
attention on the measure in question. The recent practice could be called
the "assumed filibuster." One needed only to announce opposition
to specific legislation and claim forty votes.
This may mean keeping the Senate in all night, or all of several nights.
In the old days of Democratic preeminence, it was easy. Then-Majority
leader, Sen Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), enjoyed legislative action more than
anything else in life. Trent Lott, prefers to be home for dinner. This
is a good thing. We have just seen a senator go down to defeat for ignoring
the family values which elected him. But surely that fine patriot, Tricia
Lott, would give up an evening or two with her husband in order to make
clear how vigorously he is serving the nation.
Margo Carlisle was director of the Senate Steering Committee, director
of the Senate GOP Conference, chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
and an Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration.
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