Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Filibuster

So we're getting a real live filibuster, instead just the threat of one. The last time the Senate had an actual filibuster was in 1964, to try to stop civil rights. I wrote earlier that in the Senate 60 votes are required to end debate and force a vote on a bill. The actual procedure is a bit more arcane:
The Right to Recognition

Rule XIX affords the presiding officer no choice and no discretion in recognition. As a general rule, if a Senator seeks recognition when no other Senator has the floor, the presiding officer must recognize him or her. The presiding officer may not decline to recognize the Senator, whether for reasons of personal preference or partisan advantage, or to enable the Senate to reach a vote on the pending matter.

As a result, when the Senate is considering any debatable question, it cannot vote on the question so long as any Senator wants to be recognized to debate it.

Basically, the rethugs have merely threatened to filibuster, and because the dems don't have 60 votes, the debate isn't ended. The bill simply doesn't come to a vote.
The Right to Speak at Length and the Two-Speech Rule

Under Rule XIX, unless any special limits on debate are in effect, Senators who have been recognized may speak for as long as they wish.

They usually cannot be forced to cede the floor, or even interrupted, without their consent. (There are some exceptions: for example, Senators can lose the floor if they violate the Senate’s standards of decorum in debate, or, as discussed later, they may be interrupted for the presentation of a cloture motion.) Rule XIX places no limit on the length of individual speeches or on the number of Senators who may speak on a pending question.

It does, however, tend to limit the possibility of extended debate by its provision that “no Senator shall speak more than twice upon any one question in debate on the same legislative day without leave of the Senate, which shall be determined without debate.” This provision, commonly called the “two-speech rule,” limits each Senator to making two speeches per day, however long each speech may be, on each debatable question that the Senate considers. A Senator who has made two speeches on a single question becomes ineligible to be recognized for another speech on the same question on the same day.

The “day” during which a Senator can make no more than two speeches on the same question is not a calendar day, but a legislative day. A legislative day ends only with an adjournment, so that, whenever the Senate recesses overnight, rather than adjourning, the same legislative day continues into the next calendar day. A legislative day may therefore extend over several calendar days. The leadership may continue to recess the Senate, rather than adjourning, as a means of attempting to overcome a filibuster by compelling filibustering Senators to exhaust their opportunities of gaining recognition.

Senators rarely invoke the two-speech rule because they generally do not believe that there is any need to do so. Sometimes, however, they may insist that the two- speech rule be enforced, as a means of attempting to overcome a filibuster. On such occasions, nevertheless, Senators often can circumvent the two-speech rule by making a motion or offering an amendment that constitutes a new and different debatable question.

For example, each Senator can make two speeches on each bill, each first-degree amendment to a bill, and each second-degree amendment to each of those amendments as well.

In recent practice, the Senate considers that being recognized and engaging in debate constitutes a speech. The Senate, however, does not consider “that recognition for any purpose [constitutes] a speech.” Currently effective precedents have held that “certain procedural motions and requests were examples of actions that did not constitute speeches for purposes of the two speech rule.” These matters include such things as making a parliamentary inquiry and suggesting the absence of a quorum.

Nevertheless, if a Senator is recognized for a substantive comment, however brief, on the pending question, that remark may count as a speech.

By actually forcing the continued debate and not adjourning the senate for the night, Sen. Reid is forcing the rethugs to act on their threats.
(I'm trying out this "serious" blogger thing).

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