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Wielding the Filibuster

THERE is more to this week's "motor voter" win by the Clinton administration than providing inducements for more Americans to register and vote. It took the votes of 60 senators to halt a so-called "filibuster" and enact the bill. Use of the filibuster in attempting to derail a proposed congressional act in the United States Senate is a legitimate maneuver that has its good uses. The least that can be said for it is that, even when unsuccessful, it forces members of the Senate to thoroughly examine contr oversial proposals and their reasons for rejecting or enacting them.

That is what occurred in this case. Although the major tool of the filibuster is delay - and much of the prolonged debate is little above the level of trivia - the ultimate result reflects at worst the inability of proponents to achieve an unchallengeable majority.

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The filibuster may be subject to abuse, but over the decades few members of the Senate have resorted to it unless they felt the outcome was critical.

Earlier in the current session, Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas successfully applied the filibuster to scuttle President Clinton's jobs proposal.

But Mr. Dole was not able to stymie the Democratic bid to make it easier for Americans who are not registering to vote to get their names on voting lists.

Six Republican senators backed the registration plan, making it possible to end debate and pass the bill, which provides for several easy ways of registering to vote: when getting motor vehicle licenses, joining the military, going to social service agencies, and registering by mail. (Criminal penalities are provided for misuse of the privilege, and registrars are prohibited from taking people's names off voter rolls simply because they failed to vote.)

Minority Leader Dole clearly has his own agenda, which appears to include one last bid for the Republican nomination for president in the 1996 election. If Dole & Co. can continue to keep Mr. Clinton reacting to their initiatives, the Kansas senator might be a formidable candidate four years hence.

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