'Mr. Smith' Bill Would Force GOP To Talk Out Filibusters

Why doesn't Harry Reid call the GOP's bluff and make them talk out their filibusters, reading from the phone book or "Moby Dick", like Mr. Smith did in that movie?

That's one of the great frustrations for folks who want to see legislation voted on and it's a question that the Senate Majority Leader gets on a regular basis. He researched it last year, coming to the conclusion that the rules don't force a filibustering senator to talk incessantly. Rather, the obstructing member merely needs 41 senators ready to vote down a cloture motion and functioning vocal chords (to occasionally say, "I object").

Frank Lautenberg intends to change that. The Democratic senator from New Jersey announced Wednesday that he would introduce the "Mr. Smith Bill," which would specifically require the minority to talk out a filibuster, a la Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Once debate ends and no senator requests the floor to share his or her wisdom with the C-SPAN audience, a bill could immediately come up for a cloture vote, rather than requiring a cloture petition, an intervening day and 30 additional hours of debate, during which nothing else can happen.

Lautenberg's bill is elegant in its simplicity: It merely requires objecting senators to stand up and state their objections. Or state something. Anything.

"If a senator wants to delay our work in the Senate, then that senator must show up on the floor and debate," said Lautenberg. "Filibusters should happen on Capitol Hill, not from the Capital Grille. If any of my colleagues feel strongly enough about a bill or nomination to stop all work in the Senate, they should have no problem standing on the Senate floor to explain their opposition to the American public."

Of course, the GOP could filibuster Lautenberg's bill without going to the floor to explain why, a knot that could be untied at the beginning of the 2011 legislative session, when a simple majority will be needed to change Senate rules. Lautenberg's measure could be inserted into the rules at that time.