More talk, less action

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More talk, less action

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A filibuster is an act of blocking legislature that a minority group of lawmakers use to prevent the majority from making decisions on their own. But the term originated from a Dutch word meaning “pirate.” Filibustering usually entails delivering a lengthy speech and first appeared in the United States. In 1841, Democratic senators took turns delivering lengthy speeches in order to prevent a bank act bill from being passed.

The problem arises when a speaker needs to go to the bathroom. Once a person leaves the podium he loses his chance to speak. In 1957, Strom Thurmond held the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes. Before his marathon speech, he went to a sauna and let out as much water as possible from his body. While he was talking to the Senate his aide was holding a bucket in case of an emergency. The Civil Rights Act that he opposed was eventually passed but his speech still holds the Senate record as the longest.

These days, legislators don’t need to actually make the speech. All they need to do is to declare that they will hold a filibuster. Nonetheless, they still must deliver a long speech if the chairman of the Senate asks them to do so.

There is a way to stop the filibuster. In 1917, a regulation was introduced that stated a filibuster was to end if a two-thirds vote supports a bill. The regulation was eased in 1975 to a three-fifths vote, that is, 60 seats of the Senate. On Dec. 11, the bill to provide the U.S. automobile industry with a rescue fund worth $14 billion wasn’t passed because it failed to get a three-fifths vote.

The filibuster is commonly used in countries where parliamentary systems are advanced such as the United Kingdom, France and Canada. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” U.S. President-elect Barack Obama wrote that the filibuster serves as a firewall that prevents the risk of the majority’s tyranny.

In Korea, Democrats have occupied the conference room of the National Assembly for 13 days. This is an act of tyranny by a minority as they block legislation using illegal means. Why don’t we introduce the filibuster instead?

For now, it is impossible to use it because there is a strict time limit for a legislator to talk to the National Assembly. The opposition party doesn’t need to oppose the idea. The Grand National Party has 172 seats, less than three-fifths of the National Assembly, so the Democratic Party doesn’t need to worry that their filibuster will be easily blocked.

If lawmakers are given unlimited time to talk they will at least sit down and have debates. This will also prevent our country from losing face in the eyes of the international society.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Cho Hyun-wook [poemlove@joongang.co.kr]

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