As I noted in another post, the media seems to be turning “reconciliation” into an ugly word.
But “filibuster” is the word with a more unsavory history. (Thanks to HeathBeat reader Barry Carroll who sent me a link to the history of the word.)
“Filibuster” finds its root in the Spanish word “filibustero,” which means “pirate.” The filibuster was originally seen as an opportunity to “pirate” or “hijack” a debate.
In modern American history the filibuster became infamous as a tool used to block civil rights legislation. This tradition goes all the way back to 1946 when Southern Senators blocked a vote on a bill proposed by Democrat Dennis Chavez of New Mexico that would have created a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee to prevent discrimination in the work place. The filibuster lasted weeks, and Senator Chavez was forced to remove the bill from consideration.
Ezra Klein has published an engaging series of interviews regarding the filibuster, and the prospects and shape of reform for the Senate’s much maligned rule of procedure. The prospects for reform don’t look particularly bright. And as we come to reckon with one of the final products of the filibuster floor, the Senate’s health reform bill, we may want to take a moment to consider the filibuster itself– this need for 60 votes.
According to UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, about 8 percent of major bills faced a filibuster in the 1960s. This decade, that jumped to 70 percent. The problem with the minority party continually making the majority party fail, of course, is that it means neither party can ever successfully govern the country.
It should also be noted that unlike today, a filibuster in the early 60’s required the arduous (and, it would seem, daunting physical task of continued speech and an inability to consider other legislation during the pendency of the filibuster. A set of circumstances which at times brought sleeping cots onto the Senate floor and may have served to limit the filibuster’s use.