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Susan Green

Filibuster Coalition Blocks Legislation

(21 March 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 12, 21 March 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The unholy coalition between the Dixiecrat filibusterers and the “Old Guard” Republicans in the Senate is not only a voting-coalition but a coalition in action as well. In the second week of the filibuster, which began on February 28, the yapping Southerners took a breather and yielded to Republican Senator Cain from Washington who was prepared to gas for sixteen hours, not on the civil rights program, not on Senate rules, but on another subject altogether, namely, a presidential appointment of which Senator Cain disapproved.

Senator Cain came with a supply of milk, with which he refreshed himself, with a supply of candy, with which he pepped himself up, and with an extra pair of shoes into which he changed to relieve his feet.

With all his preparations, Cain lasted only six hours and forty-five minutes. The spectacle he presented, with the Dixiecrats standing by to take up the yapping where he left off, is the measure of the irresponsibility of this Democratic-Republican coalition. While they yapped, all legislation was tied up, not only the civil rights program, but matters of such immediate urgency as the renewal of rent control.

Defeat Barkley Ruling

In the showdown vote on Friday the coalition defeated Vice-President Barkley’s ruling that cloture can be enforced on a motion as well as on a measure. The filibuster now going on is on the motion to bring before the Senate the measure to change the Senate rule so as to put an end to the vicious obstructionist tactic known as a filibuster.

Twenty-three Democrats voted against the Democrat Barkley and the same number of Republicans did likewise, making a total of forty-six against. Twenty-five Democrats and sixteen Republicans supported Barkley. All but three of the Southern senators opposed Barkley. The majority of the Republicans opposing him are of the “Old Guard” from the Midwest, where there are not so many large cities and where the racial minorities are small, so that these senators do not worry about the Negro vote and can concentrate upon defeating the Democratic administration program.

In the debate on Friday, the chief contestants were the Democrat Barkley and the Republican Vandenberg. Barkley contended that there must be the right to close debate on a motion to bring a measure before the Senate as well as on a measure, otherwise all possibility of legislating could be cut off. Indeed, this is exactly what the nation sees today; all legislation is blocked. Vandenberg, who holds that cloture applies only to a measure and not to a motion, expressed the view that the Senate rule must be rewritten and that reliance must not be placed on the interpretation of the presiding officer. However, Vandenberg, who is supposed to be not in sympathy with the Dixiecrats, failed to show how to get by their filibustering to rewrite the rule, without first allowing cloture on a motion to present the rewritten rule to the Senate.

Over the weekend there have been rumors of a compromise. Senator McGrath, chairman of the Democratic Party, has been in communication with the President, vacationing in Florida, who reportedly favors a compromise to get some legislative business done. On the other hand, Senator Russell, who with Senators Connally, George and Long, led the filibuster, hastened to inform the press that “We’re not ready to go into any horse and rabbit trade where we swap a good strong horse for a mangy little rabbit.” And Senator Lucas, administration leader in the Senate, dolefully but realistically states that even if some compromise is arrived at, it will not be such as to permit the Senate to go on to debate and vote on changing the Senate rules so as to allow the civil rights program to get to the floor of the Senate.

May Drop Issue

The Administration Democrats are not in an enviable position. They are up against the coalition between the Dixiecrats and the “Old Guard” Republicans, which they don’t know how to crack. Senator Lucas, administration floor leader, has been accused of very easy-going tactics against the filibuster, of making no real attempt to wear out the windbags. Now he is reported to have promised that if no compromise is reached, he will launch a round-the-clock session designed to exhaust the yapping filibusterers and get on to the amendment of the rules to bar future filibusters.

It is supposed that once the amendment gets on the floor, the Republican Vandenberg and other Republicans will vote for it. But the unknown factor is how long it will take to exhaust the coalition – and there is, for example, such important business as the rent control law which expires on March 31. On the other hand, the expiring rent control law can well be used as the excuse for abandoning the fight against the filibuster at this time. In fact, Senator McGrath, in a press conference, indicated that that fight might be dropped for the present.

There is miscellaneous talk around the whole question. Speculation is rife on the possibility of the coalition between the Dixiecrats and the “Old Guard” Republicans jelling into a new party with old ideas, with the more liberal Republicans and the Truman Democrats also coalescing into a party. More moderate commentators express the hope that in the 1950 election the reactionaries in the present parties will be turned out of office, and only then will the Senate rules be changed and a civil rights program be acted upon.

In the meantime the nation looks on while all legislation is blocked by the tricky obstructionism of the Southerners. There is involved in the abolition of the filibuster no question of freedom of speech, of debate, of the rights of legislative minorities. What is involved is whether a reactionary minority shall be permitted to use an outdated technicality to obstruct the legislative machinery, such as it is.

Even though the working masses and the oppressed minorities cannot expect too much from even the most liberal elements in the capitalist parties, it is definitely in the interests of the people to have abolished the filibuster which serves as a tool for the most reactionary politicians. Accordingly, it is to be hoped that the union movement will apply the pressure of its strength on the administration to force its uncompromising action to break the filibusterers once and for all.

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