"I've been here 32 years and I've seen plenty of filibuster, but I never saw a situation like this," Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) told the Senate. "We slept there many a night. But at least there was someone talking. You could come in and get educated."
The classic Senate filibuster is a minority talking endlessly to block a vote until 60 senators vote to shut them up. Then the Senate votes.
But this filibuster against removing price controls from natural gas is all backward. The Seante voted Monday, shortly after its session began, to invoke cloture and limit debate to one hour by each senator. That's when the filibuster began in earnest.
Sens. James Abourezk (D-S.D.), a maverick who is leaving the Senate after next year, and Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), an elegant self-made millionaire, had carefully prepared for a filibuster by amendment. They were limited in their ability to talk, but not in the number of germane amendments they could call up for a vote provided they were introduced before the cloture vote.
There were 508.
To prevent a vote on deregulation, Abourezk and Metzenbaum called up one amendment after another. Opponents would immediately move to table, a nondebatable motion to kill a proposal. They always won. Then Abourezk would force a 15-minute roll-Call on a routine motion to nail down the tabling action. Sometimes he would also force a quorum call.
As Monday evening wore on there were points of order that the filibusterers were conducting dilatory tactics, rulings by the chair that indeed they were, appeals from the rulings of the chair which failed.
One way to speed things up would have been to keep a quorum of 51 senators on the floor so no demand could be made for a quorum call. A planned meeting of the Senate Finance Committee to act on other parts of President Carter's energy bill was called off, in part to try to keep a quorum on the floor, in part because it would be broken up every few minutes by roll calls anyway. The quorum melted away by the time a quorum call was completed.
When the Senate convened at 9 a.m. yesterday, Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) observed that on Monday the Senate spent five hours and 36 minutes on quorum calls and roll-call votes and hadn't moved the situation forward.
"I hope the Senate is prepare, if what we saw yesterday contues today, to spend the night and spend more than one night if necessary," warned Byrd. Not since the fight over the 1964 Civil Rights act, when cots were set up in the old Supreme Court chamber near the Senate floor, has the Senate sat up all night to try to break a filibuster.
So frustrated was Byrd that he filed notice of intent to move to suspend the Senate rules to permit all 500 amendments to be bundled together into one motion and disposed of by a single vote, that would require a two-thirds vote.
One of Abourezk's time-consuming maneuvers was to force the complete reading by the clerk of 20-page amendments. Byrd said he may also ask the Senate to suspend the rules to waive reading of amendments.
One of the little courtesies senators customarily extend each other is to agree to have a roll-call vote on request. Several times yesterday Abourezk and Metzenbaum failed to get the required support for a time-consuming roll-call and were defeated by instant voice votes instead.
Committee chairmen, like Magnuson, tried to put pressure on the filibusterers to give up by warning that vital legislation was being delayed by their tactics. Magnuson has the Health, Education and Welfare appropriation to bill with Social Security funds needed to cover checks due to got out this weekend.
Abourezk responded in these words:
"We are acting in the tradition of the Senate. Are we here to follow orders or to ask questions and act in the best interests of our constituents? Senate rules are devised to let one man object as long as he physically can. It is not very pleasant to be put in a position of protest. There are all kinds of peer pressures. I want to say to the leader and the membership there are a number of us who feel the natural gas deregulation issue is the most important economic issue of the last three decades. I apologize to my colleagues for inconveniencing them. Someday perhaps you will have an issue that strikes you so hard you will want to do the same thing."