News / USA

Trying to Kill a Bill with Talk

In an image made from the C-Span broadcast, Senator Ted Cruz continues to speak on the floor of the U.S. Senate at 5:21 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, September 25, 2013.
In an image made from the C-Span broadcast, Senator Ted Cruz continues to speak on the floor of the U.S. Senate at 5:21 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, September 25, 2013.
VOA News
For 21 hours and 19 minutes, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz made his case against Obamacare, more formally known as the Affordable Care Act, on the Senate floor.

When he began around 2:40 pm Tuesday, he declared he would speak out against funding the act until he "is no longer able to stand."



Media outlets described his speech as a "fake filibuster" or a "faux filibuster," and even, political theater.

All of this made us wonder exactly what a filibuster is. We turned to VOA Senate Correspondent Michael Bowman to find out.

Michael Bowman: "Well, a filibuster is a procedural motion. It is something that happens in the Senate from time to time. It is used quite often today. It was not used so often in the past. The word 'filibuster' actually comes from a Dutch word, meaning 'pirate.' The idea being that a pirate may seize control of your ship and belongings, and a senator who is filibustering seizes control of the Senate floor.

VOA: What is the idea behind a filibuster?

Michael Bowman: "A filibuster comes from the Senate tradition that the Senate is the chamber of ample and unlimited debate. And what a senator may do when a bill is being debated, is come to the floor and speak on an unlimited basis. And it used to be that a senator could come and speak for as long as he could stand or until his energy gave out.  Now, most filibusters are conducted silently. A senator simply puts a motion in for a “hold” to hold up a bill, and the only way to break that is with a 60 vote majority. That is how a filibuster is broken, when 60 out of 100 senators come together.

VOA: So, exactly what was Senator Cruz doing?

Michael Bowman:  "Senator Cruz gave a very, very long speech that began on Tuesday afternoon and he continued up ‘til about noon on Wednesday, talking for a total of 21 hours. He used time that is allotted to senators to debate. During those 21 and hours and 19 minutes, Cruz had control of the Senate floor, but he was on a time limit. And that limit was reached at 12 p.m. Wednesday, at which time the senator simply sat down and stopped speaking. Noon is when the Senate formally began the day's business, meaning all those hours before was actually an extension of yesterday's business. 

Now Senate majority leader Harry Reid will call for a vote on the legislation that includes the provision on Obamacare. Were this a true filibuster, Senator Cruz would be able to speak and speak and speak and speak and speak and there is no way he could be interrupted. Actually, a filibuster is talking a bill to death."

VOA: How effective are filibusters historically speaking?
 
Michael Bowman
: "Filibusters are very effective. Some people believe that, in fact, the filibuster has ground the Senate and Congress and our nation's entire political system to a halt. In effect, all votes of consequence today require 60 votes to move forward - that is a super majority.  Three-fifths of the Senate now on almost any bill of consequence in order for that bill to move forward. So that has had a tremendous impact."

Earlier this year, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky had a marathon session on the Senate floor where he spoke for 13 hours on a bill regarding the use of unmanned aircraft -- drones -- on United States soil."

VOA:  Not to be indelicate, but there are certain human needs that must be attended to. How is this issue handled in a traditional filibuster?

Michael Bowman: "The way that it works is that when a senator, when he or she is speaking, has the floor until he or she gives it up. However the senator can yield for a question. And it is understood that another senator can come to the floor and ask a question and if the senator who is engaging in a filibuster or a long speech (as in the case of Senator Cruz) yields to that request, a question may be asked and the senator will answer.   

However, the definition of what constitutes a question is fairly flexible. And, in fact, what has been happening is that Senator Cruz did not speak on the floor non-stop for those 21 hours and 19 minutes. He has been speaking for long periods of time, then yielding for a questions have gone on for 15 minutes or a half an hour, and in a couple of cases even longer, and that gave the senator the chance to leave the Senate floor and take care of human needs. I believe he did not get any sleep during that period, but he did leave the floor at times while maintaining control."  

The Cruz marathon speech garnered a variety of reactions on Twitter.  Here is a sampling:

VOA's Catherine Maddux contributed to this article.

You May Like

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

Video Better Protective Suit Sought for Ebola Caregivers

Current suit is uncomfortable, requires too many steps for removal, increasing chance of deadly contact with virus More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 26, 2013 7:34 AM
Filibuster is all about saying nothing but ensuring that the bill on row is defeated by not having good contributions that would have helped it. Ted Cruz acted like a man. He was saving America for more reasons than defeat Obamacare. If all the bills before the house have to be filibustered, USA will be saved from itself, its leaders and make them run the administration more reasonably, and not spend in excess of what comes in. If I have not lost my count, this may be about the 4th time the presidency of Obama is asking for borrowing raise. And Sen. Cruz must be working with that in mind, rather than just Obamacare which may or may not add any value to American lifestyles.


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
September 25, 2013 8:14 PM
This speech reminds me of a proverb, eloquence is silver, silence is gold. This speech is not constructive, but a speech for the purpose of only to oppose.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid