Foster Jr., the president's controversial...

DR. HENRY W.

July 05, 1995

DR. HENRY W. Foster Jr., the president's controversial nominee for surgeon general, ran afoul of the Senate's fabled filibuster rule recently. For those unfamiliar with the history of this parliamentary maneuver, here is some background, courtesy of the Washington Times:

"Filibuster derives from the Dutch word 'vrijbuiter,' which means free booty, and the Spanish 'filibustero' -- West Indian pirates who used a small ship called the filibot.

"In the 1850s, the word began to be used to describe speeches in Congress used for disruptive purposes.

"Filibusters used to be rare. There were only 19 throughout the 19th century. But they were lengthy and often frustrating to the majority.

"In 1917, after a 23-day filibuster of the Wilson administration's bill to arm American merchant ships, there was such a public outcry at the ability of 11 senators to thwart the will of the country that a rule was adopted giving senators a means to cut off unlimited debate.

"Under the rule, a filibuster could be stopped if two-thirds of the senators present voted to do so.

"This proved enormously difficult -- only eight of 45 cloture votes between 1917 and 1970 were successful.

"In 1975, the Senate amended the rule to make it easier to cut off a filibuster -- requiring only a three-fifths vote to do so."

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