Hooray For <i>Real</I> Debate!

head shot of Bob Schieffer
Here's the latest commentary by CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer, as seen on CBS News' Face The Nation:

I tried to get the Evening News to do a story last week about how the Senate is having a real debate on campaign finance reform. I kept getting turned down, and then I understood why. Like most people, the editors in New York assumed the Senate has real debates all the time.

Well, here's a scoop: The Senate hardly ever has a real debate. You can usually tell how a senator will vote by checking who contributed to his or her campaign. By the time issues get to the Senate floor, everything has been worked out and all sides generally know how the vote will end up.

Debate, if you want to call it that, usually amounts to no more than senators reading speeches written by someone else to an empty Senate chamber. The key word here is "boring."

Until last week. Republican leaders have always blocked campaign reform from coming to a final vote but in a Senate divided 50-50, that's no longer possible. So with a filibuster no longer possible, individual amendments are being debated and voted on.

Since no one knows which amendments will be considered until they are introduced on the floor, debate has been spontaneous, and compromises are being struck and legislation is being written, well, like it's usually portrayed in the movies.

What has surprised the senators is they love it. It's been so long since they had a real debate they had forgotten how much fun it can be. I'm with them. I don't know how this one will come out, but campaign finance is finally getting the airing it deserves - and the Senate has never looked better.

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