Because its strict debate rules limit speeches to the bill under consideration, the House has developed a tradition of permitting members to make one-minute speeches at the start of each daily session on any subject on their minds.
Democratic leaders have noted, to their annoyance, that the number of one-minute speeches has about doubled in the two years since House proceedings have been televised. They suspect it has something to do with a desire to make the TV evening news with a film clip of a timely speech.
Last week when Speaker Thomas P. O'Neil Jr. (D-Mass.) was out of town, Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) filled in and decided to do something about this proliferation of one-minute speeches, which Wright said were eating into time needed to pass a long list of "must" bills before Congress quits. He announced that one-minutes would be put off until the end of the day, when members could talk as long as they wanted to an empty chamber -- but too late to catch the evening news.
From a scheduling standpoint that may have made sense, but the timing couldn't have been worse. The Billy Carter story was just heating up and Republicans screeched that Wright was trying to cut off their right of free speech.
"The minoirity will not be gagged," shouted Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa), who had been making daily speeches demanding appointment of a special prosecutor to get all the facts. Republicans filibustered with procedudral roll calls and used up considerably more time than a few short speeches.
Yesterday, with O'Neil still away, Wright announced a compromise, which Shuster had suggested. He permitted 20 minutes for short speeches at the start of the session and divided the time between the parties.