We've debated this bill for nine days. I heard the world was created in seven. Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd
SOME TIME AFTER the Creation, as Sen. Byrd (D-W.Va.) well knows, the filibuster came into being in the Senate - an "extended debate" that anti-civil-rights senators learned to use ad nauseam to prevent the taking of votes. To those in the Senate or out who espoused the just cause of civil rights, the filibuster was a bad thing. We, too, spent many a paragraph in this space arguing against allowing a minority to talk endlessly to thwart majority rule and paralyze the legislative branch in the face of other urgent national business.
Times have changed, of course, and so has the form of the filibuster. The most curious change of all, though - as we saw after umpteen hours and an all-night seession on the natural-gas-pricing issue in the Senate this week - has to do with the Senators who are now resorting to dilatory tactics. They aren't what you'd call the "conservative" bloc. No, the prime nonmovers turn out to be "liberal" Democratic Sens. James Abourezk of South Dakota and Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio. As if that weren't enough of a switch, this is being referred to as a "people's filibuster."
Baloney.Call it what you will, the delaying actions led by Sens. Abourezk and Metzenbaum are straight out of the Book of Dixiecrats, as revised by Sen. James B. Allen of Alabama. Sen. Allen, as you may recall, refined the art of the talkathon after the Senate approved the invocation of cloture by the vote of 60 senators - a change that had taken years of chipping away by so-called "liberals." Indeed, that blow for freedom had to survive a filibuster-to-sare-the-filibuster before it was voted upon. But Sen. Allen learned that he could still stall off a vote and prolong debate even after cloture had been voted by demanding quorum calls, introducing countless amendments and insisting on roll-call votes on every one of the eligible amendments.
So in introducing 508 - count 'em, 508 - inhibiting amendments. Sens. Abourezk and Metzenbaum managed to out-Allen Allen in the legislative-torture department. Moreover, they have shown that no matter how valiant the Senate's past effort to tighten up the rules in a fair fashion, ways will be found to bend them. We think this makes a mockey of orderly and responsible legislative procedures. And the mockery is merely compounded by the excuses that past opponents of the filibuster are now dredging up in an effort to justify the latest circus on the hill.