Chattanooga Times Free Press: Editorial: Importance of extended debate

Posted on January 6, 2011

The operations of Congress often are neither "neat" nor "efficient." But they aren't supposed to be. Legislative bodies should be designed to promote debate, to be informative, to avoid "rushed" action and to permit varied views to be heard -- so the ultimate decisions may be made by well-informed legislators.

But much talk in Congress sometimes may frustrate both the legislators and "the people."

Tennessee's erudite U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander made a significant address to The Heritage Foundation in Washington a few days ago to explain the virtues of the Senate's sometimes "extended debate," often derisively called a "filibuster." The address came as Democrats, who no longer have a "filibuster-proof" majority in the Senate, were seeking to sharply curtail the filibuster.

Alexander quoted Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, a brilliant observer of early 19th century America. De Tocqueville warned of the danger of the "tyranny of the majority," fearing that the rights of the minority might be trampled.

Members of Congress certainly may become worse than tiresome when they talk too much or otherwise try to prevent an issue from coming to a vote that they might lose.

But it has been observed that no really "good and necessary" action by Congress has been defeated by long-winded debate -- and that much "bad and undesirable" legislation has been avoided by extensive debate.

That's why our Senate sometimes is admirably and correctly described as "the world's greatest deliberative body."