- It may come as a surprise to many Americans, but senators don't actually have to talk during a filibuster.
- For most of the 20th century, a filibuster consisted of a senator or a small group of senators arguing about a bill, reciting Shakespeare or even just reading a phone book — anything to hold the floor and prevent debate from ending and a vote from being held. In recent years, however, it has become more of a procedural move to require a supermajority to end debate.
- Frustrated by the current use of the filibuster, a group of Democratic senators has proposed changing the rules in January. One proposal would be to bring back the "talking filibuster" and require the minority to actually speak in order to prevent debate from ending.
- But how would that work in the modern era? Here are some possibilities.
Talking filibusters would get a lot more attention.
- Filibusters aren't that interesting right now. But a talking filibuster would mean hours of footage of senators arguing about a bill — or even just reading "Hamlet." The action would begin on C-SPAN, as the cable network broadcasts the speeches in full. The 24-hour cable news channels, CNN, MSNBC and Fox, would cut to the event with on-screen clocks and special logos. People watching would begin tweeting the best lines, joking about the worst ones, starting #hashtags and trending topics, just as they did during the presidential debates and conventions this year. The best and worst moments would be clipped and passed around on YouTube. Finally, the nightly news shows, late-night comics and "The Daily Show" would cap it all off at the end of the day.
- Chances: Highly likely. Look at what happened when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took to the floor for a filibuster of a tax package in 2010.
In some cases, they might be even more effective.
- In recent years, the minority party in the Senate has used the filibuster to slow routine votes in order to jam the majority party's legislative agenda. A talking filibuster would draw more attention to the bills being stalled, which would make the minority more careful about which bills it selects. Supporters of changes to the filibuster argue this would mean fewer filibusters on legislation that is actually popular with the public, such as a veterans' jobs bill. But in other cases, a talking filibuster might actually make a bill more unpopular as it draws attention to the majority party's proposals in a polarizing way. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the filibuster would come down to how easy it is to explain the bill in question. Complicated bills that require too much explanation would mostly fall along partisan lines.
- Chances: Likely. Look at what happened when the health care law was delayed in 2009.
Both sides would use them as organizing tools.
- With more attention on talking filibusters, both parties would use them to turn out the grassroots. When he threatened a filibuster against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden created a website where users could submit their names to have them read aloud on the Senate floor. Meantime, Sanders turned his filibuster into a book, which is available on Amazon. The majority party would also create petitions urging for an end to individual filibusters.
- Chances: Likely. It's unclear whether these efforts are useful, though.
Other stalling tactics would become popular instead.
- The filibuster isn't the only way to slow the Senate down. In fact, the rules of the Senate make it almost absurdly easy for the minority party to block action. A lot of routine business in the Senate depends on unanimous consent, which means a single senator can delay things by withholding support, or placing a "hold." Party leaders can also force time-wasting roll call votes on routine business, make frivolous points of order, propose counterproductive amendments, delay important committee work or require legislation be read aloud in order to stall for time. These measures are even harder to explain than a filibuster, so they may be even easier for the minority party to abuse.
- Chances: Likely. When House Republicans required an energy bill be read aloud, Democrats responded by hiring a speed reader.
The talking filibuster would eventually go away too.
- The filibuster is not a cause of Senate polarization. It's a symptom of it. There's no reason to believe that simply forcing senators to talk would address any of the other causes. As the talking filibuster is adapted to modern times, the majority party may find it slows down the Senate even more. The minority party may find that it's more trouble than it's worth. Or both sides may find that it just hardens battle lines and makes it harder for either to achieve its goals. Eventually, some pundits argue, the talking filibuster would be targeted for more changes or eliminated altogether.
- Chances: Unknown. A lot depends on how the two parties react to the proposed changes.
As seen ondailycamera.com
Filibusters: What would happen if senators had to talk?
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