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

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy 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.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid