[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Right to ramble splits US Senate
By Justin Webb
BBC News, Washington

If you think that politicians go on a bit, spare a thought for the Americans.

Democratic Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid talks to reporters on Capitol Hill
Democrats say they will slow Senate business if rules are changed
In the US Senate any of the 100 members has the power to hold up any bill indefinitely unless an overwhelming majority vote them down.

The filibuster, as it is known, is now under threat from Republicans who are in the majority and want to stop the Democrats holding up business.

In the film classic Mr Smith goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart plays the good guy who talks and talks to win the day.

A clip of the movie is now part of a TV advertisement trying to persuade Americans that the filibuster is part of their heritage and protects their rights.

According to the Almanac of American Politics, 87-year-old Robert Byrd comes closer than anyone other to the kind of senator the founding fathers had in mind.

On the floor, nobody tries to hurry him.

Speech lasted 14 hours

"It used to be that when Senator Huey filibustered, he would use a telephone directory or he'd read recipes for certain kinds of pot liquor or whatever - just anything to take up time," Senator Byrd said.

Senator Robert Byrd
Senator Robert Byrd's right to ramble may be curtailed

"But then the southerners mastered this and instead of doing all that pot liquor stuff, they stayed on the subject.

"And so when I filibustered 14 hours and 13 minutes in 1964 I never got off the germaneness of the subject."

But Mr Byrd's rights to ramble may soon be curtailed.

There is a plot afoot to ban the filibuster on one particular issue - Senate approval for President Bush's judicial nominations.

At the moment many of them are in limbo, with Democrats refusing to allow a vote on their appointments.

'Jesus did not filibuster'

Some Republicans say it is time to act.

God versus the filibuster is the latest strange alignment in American politics

Their leader in the Senate, Bill Frist, says: "We will consider what opponents call the nuclear option.

"Only in the United States Senate could it be considered a devastating option to allow a vote - most places call that democracy."

Mr Frist has taken the bold step of allying himself with evangelical Christians who desperately want President Bush's conservative judges to get into the courts and start dispensing their kind of justice.

The filibuster was portrayed as ungodly during a recent televised rally.

Jesus it seems would not have filibustered and nor would decent modern politicians.

'Everything at stake'

For the Democrats the veteran Robert Byrd can also sound apocalyptic when necessary. He says the filibuster's survival is vital.

"It is a dastardly, dangerous power move," he says.

"Because if this crowd downtown can push through a change to the rules... then everything is up for grabs and the American people will have lost and senators will rue the day that they ever fell for this bunk."

At the moment public opinion is probably on Mr Byrd's side but opponents of the filibuster are still gathering support and if a clash comes the evangelicals will be on hand to help change parliamentary procedure.

God versus the filibuster is the latest strange alignment in American politics.

Bush to resubmit blocked judges
24 Dec 04 |  Americas

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific