Was Cruz speech a real filibuster? Darn right it was

Now that was a filibuster. State Sen. Wendy Davis’ 11-hour speech in June was impressive, no doubt about it, but it was a walk in the park compared to the Mr. Smith-like talking binge that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz pulled off this week. Cruz monopolized the Senate for 21 hours and 19 minutes, pausing only occasionally to catch his breath when fellow senators chimed in with “questions” that tended to be mini-speeches in their own right. Cruz’s political opponents and detractors in the media have dismissed his effort with terms such as “faux filibuster” and “non-filibuster” – and even news reports that might be called objective carefully avoided the word “filibuster” in favor of less precise terminology such as “talkathon.” The contention is that Cruz’s speechifying in opposition to the health care program commonly referred to as Obamacare wasn’t a real filibuster because he wasn’t preventing or delaying a Senate vote on a particular piece of legislation or, as Davis did in Texas, running out the clock on a legislative session to keep a bill from passing. But the Washington-based online news outlet Politico quoted assistant Senate historian Kate Scott as saying there is nothing in the Senate’s definition of a filibuster that disqualifies the Cruz “talkathon” from being viewed as the real McCoy. “Our answer to that is that filibusters traditionally don’t have to be something that’s meant to delay a piece of legislative business,” Scott told Politico. “Filibusters can also be one member’s effort to get word out and educate people … Some people think it’s specifically to stop legislation, but it’s not necessarily to do that.” Getting the word out and educating people would be as good a description as any of what Cruz was trying to achieve by commandeering C-SPAN2’s viewing audience for the better part of 24 hours. He knew he couldn’t stop the Senate from taking up and revising a bill passed by the House that provided money for the federal government to operate while denying funds for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But he also knew that by stating and reiterating – and restating and re-reiterating – the problems Obamacare is creating for businesses and individuals he could advance the efforts of conservatives in Congress and elsewhere to roll back a program that was supposed to help ordinary Americans but clearly figures to hurt them. After the Texas Republican finally yielded the floor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., derided the Cruz filibuster as a “big waste of time” that prevented the Senate from pushing forward with urgent business – but then Reid and others frittered away an hour or two complaining about Cruz’s filibuster. Go figure. The urgent business that Cruz supposedly jeopardized was the Senate’s consideration of the House bill that would temporarily fund government operations and prevent a shutdown of federal agencies next week. Neither party has a problem with that part of the bill but most Senate Democrats and some Republicans want to eliminate the provision that “defunds” Obamacare. Filibuster or no filibuster, the debate is destined to go down to the wire, as such debates usually do. For Democrats to claim they are horrified by the thought of a government shutdown is disingenuous at best. They can prevent one simply by passing the law sent to them by the House. And make no mistake about it: Democrats are giddy over the possibility that the government will shut down and Republicans will take the heat for it. So Ted Cruz did not make a shutdown more likely and he did not keep the historically slow-moving Senate from moving quickly and he did not, as some critics suggested, diminish the health care debate by devoting part of his filibuster to a reading of the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham. In the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the great actor Jimmy Stewart portrays Sen. Jefferson Smith, who stages an epic filibuster, talks himself hoarse and finally collapses as he exposes political corruption in Washington. Mr. Cruz, like the fictional Mr. Smith, is a relative newcomer to the Capitol. Unlike Mr. Smith, Cruz did not lose his voice and was still on his feet at the end. But he did his best to expose serious flaws in Obamacare that threaten not only Americans’ health care but also their livelihoods as employers scramble to deal with the burdens Obamacare imposes on business. A faux filibuster? A waste of time? Not by a long shot.