Don’t Call It a Filibuster

Ted Cruz’s speech is not a filibuster, but he can talk until Wednesday morning.

James Stewart in a scene from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". 
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Sept. 24, 2013, 11:11 a.m.

Des­pite what you see on C-SPAN2, or what you read on Twit­ter, Ted Cruz is not fili­bus­ter­ing Obama­care. The Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or from Texas is speak­ing on the Sen­ate floor for what is ex­pec­ted to be a very long time — asked by re­port­ers when he’d stop, he replied, “We shall see” — but it’s not a fili­buster in the sense of ac­tu­ally stop­ping the up­per cham­ber’s pro­ceed­ings. In­stead, Cruz’s stand is purely sym­bol­ic.

In a real talk­ing fili­buster, as fam­ously por­trayed in Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton, a sen­at­or oc­cu­pies the Sen­ate floor in­def­in­itely so as to block the cham­ber from tak­ing up any oth­er busi­ness. In Cruz’s case, Sen­ate rules lim­it his time, and he’ll have to cede the floor by Wed­nes­day morn­ing at the latest. That’s a long time, but the Sen­ate will have to wait wheth­er Cruz speaks or not. As Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said Tues­day morn­ing, “I want to make sure every­one un­der­stands: There is no fili­buster today.”

Demo­crats already have the 60 votes needed to ini­ti­ate clo­ture and break an ac­tu­al Re­pub­lic­an fili­buster, so the rest of the tim­ing is es­sen­tially on “auto­pi­lot,” as Re­id said, be­cause on Monday he ini­ti­ated the com­plic­ated series of pro­ced­ur­al moves to cut off de­bate.

Note for nerds: Sen Cruz may use lots of floor time un­der Rule 22 re Obama­care. It WON’T be a talk­ing fili­buster un­less 41 sens deny clo­ture

— Todd Zwil­lich (@tod­dzwil­lich) Septem­ber 24, 2013

… and the chances of that are in­creas­ingly re­mote. What Cruz will do is time-lim­ited and by defin­i­tion not a talk­ing fili­buster.

— Todd Zwil­lich (@tod­dzwil­lich) Septem­ber 24, 2013

Cruz is not the first sen­at­or to give a non-fili­buster “fili­buster.” In­de­pend­ent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont spent hours on the Sen­ate floor giv­ing a speech in 2010 that was later made in­to a book, but it was not ac­tu­ally a fili­buster.

The Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Paul Kane has a day-by-day break­down of how that tim­ing will play out between now and next Tues­day, when the gov­ern­ment runs out of money. Nowhere along the way — un­less all 41 Re­pub­lic­ans unite be­hind Cruz’s ef­fort, which seems un­likely — is there an op­por­tun­ity for a real fili­buster. But that won’t stop Cruz from talk­ing.

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