11/15/2009 03:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Republican Filibuster May Be the Best Way to Pass Health Care in the Senate

On August 29, 1957, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond set the record for the longest filibuster on the Senate floor.

Thurmond made congressional history when he finally yielded the floor after speaking continuously for 24 hours and 18 minutes in order to block civil rights legislation.

In retrospect, it is an unfortunate legacy in that Thurmond tied up the Senate for more than a day by exploiting a parliamentary procedure that allowed an individual senator to hold the floor until two-thirds of the Senate voted for their colleague to relinquish it.

Thurmond, an ardent segregationist, read from a potpourri of items, including the Declaration of Independence and his grandmother's biscuit recipe, to prohibit a vote on legislation that would ensure African Americans could exercise their constitutional right to vote.

As the Senate prepares to entertain health care legislation, it seems the artful use of the filibuster may be a tool that opponents use to prohibit a vote.

Democrats need 60 votes to override any veto attempts. But Democrats don't have nor do they need 60 votes as much as they need Republicans to make good their veto threats. Democrats have something more powerful that Thurmond did not have to contend: a 24-hour news cycle.

Thurmond's filibuster was behind closed doors. The mystery surrounding the filibuster no longer exists with the advent of C-SPAN and the various cable news networks.

A Republican filibuster on health care legislation might be the best thing that could happen to Democrats. This may be a case of the threat being far more ominous than the actual event.

Doesn't Machiavelli warn that once one goes to the extent of their power they no longer have it? A filibuster of health care legislation would be an admission that the G.O.P. has no more options in its arsenal of opposition.

Do Republicans want to be seen on the Senate floor as the obstructionists who do not have a legitimate policy idea to address the estimated 47 million people that do not have health care or a way to confront the escalating cost for those who have it by reading their grandmother's oatmeal cookie recipe live?

If Republicans choose this option, it could also serve as a wake-up call for Democrats to be seen as fighting for the American people. If Harry Reid cannot find 50 Democratic votes for health care that includes a public option, he should immediately resign as Senate Majority Leader.

President Barack Obama should also welcome the possibility of making the case against those who wish to filibuster health care reform, what is arguably the most important domestic legislation since Social Security.

This is a fight the president can and should take directly to the American people. In that scenario, advantage would go to the White House.

The 1995 shut down of the federal government that pitted former President Bill Clinton against former Speaker Newt Gingrich may have done more to turn around Clinton's political fortunes than any other event.

Earlier that year, Republicans reclaimed the majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Clinton's relevance as president was questioned.

The Republican leadership in Congress wanted additional cuts in the federal budget to Medicare, Medicaid, education, the environment, and the earned income tax credit. Clinton's unwillingness to accept these cuts led to the shut down.

Ultimately, it was the Republican-led Congress, not Clinton, that was blamed for Americans not able to receive government services from Social Security checks to passports.

Who wins if President Obama is seen talking to the American people about health care while Republicans are on the Senate floor reading the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers instead of engaging in the people's business?

This is a game of political chicken and Democrats must be willing to call Republicans on their threat. A filibuster would be a live expose, succinctly explaining why Democrats reclaimed Congress in 2006.

This may not be bipartisanship the president was hoping for, but a Republican filibuster may provide the best path to passing health care legislation.

By the way, after Thurmond concluded his historic filibuster, the 1957 Civil Rights Act, which was not as strong as the legislation passed in the 1960's, still became law.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him or visit his Web site: