The Senate's lone Socialist legislator, Bernie Sanders, mounted an old-fashioned filibuster-style rant Friday on President Obama's tax cut legislation, written with congressional Republican leaders.
Sanders' staff initially indicated to Fox News Radio's Rich Johnson that the passionate Vermont independent, long an advocate for the poor and middle class, planned to speak for as long as he could stand. In the end, Sanders lasted nearly nine hours on the Senate floor, wrapping up just before 7 p.m.
"The president of the United States, President Obama, and the Republican leadership have reached an agreement on a very significant tax bill," Sanders said as he started speaking at 10:24 a.m. "In my view, the agreement that they reached is a bad deal for the American people. I think we can do better, and I am here today to take a strong stand against this bill...You can call what I am doing today whatever you want, you it call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech. I'm not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle. I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides."
It is not often this type of talk-a-thon is seen these days, though it is not formally a filibuster since the Senate already has reached a unanimous agreement to hold a vote to end debate on Monday.
More often, when the majority leader seeks to bring up a bill, for which he needs the support of every member of the chamber, and one member objects, that is called a filibuster. This started happening when the Senate, in 1917, adopted a rule creating a procedure called cloture, where two-thirds of the members present can vote to end debate (60 senators, if 100 are present).
Mike Briggs, aide to Sanders, noted that the senator had no food or throat lozenges stashed away at his desk. The only real break he took is when one of his colleagues joined him in an exchange, called a "colloquy" in the chamber.
Democrats forced Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., earlier this year, to hold the floor for a time when he decided to oppose an extension of jobless benefits, but the showdown did not last long.
Sanders, 69, on Friday spared no one in his fight against the tax legislation, even questioning the credibility of Obama. "His credibility has been damaged," Sanders said, because Obama promised to repeal taxes for the rich, adding, "If he caves in now, who's going to believe him?"
"What Republicans are doing in this agreement is driving up the national debt," Sanders accused.
But Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., questioned the wisdom of Sanders' statement, asking, "Does he want tax hikes for everyone? Of course not."
Stewart noted that Sanders could have objected to the cloture vote on Monday at 3p.m.
Senators in the past, mounting old-school filibusters, have recited Shakespeare or even read a recipe for "pot-likkers," and still another read the phone book, but so far, Sanders is sticking to a line-item critique of the tax bill introduced Thursday night.
The longest filibuster in history was by the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-SC, who spoke on the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Another notable blockade came from the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-Va., who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act for nearly 14 hours, which he later said he regretted.