John McCaslin

Several readers wrote to us yesterday in praise of the U.S. Army Chorus — the vocal counterpart of the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" — after its stirring performance of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the conclusion of the White House welcoming ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI.

It so happens that the highly talented chorus has also serenaded Queen Elizabeth II and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, among numerous world leaders. In fact, the visiting dignitaries are often greeted in their native tongues, as the chorus is able to sing in more than 26 languages.

49 Smiths

Finally, something of significance — record-breaking, in fact — has being accomplished by the 110th Congress, all thanks to the Republican minority. And the Democrats are none too pleased.

As Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, points out, a filibuster is a way to stop the Senate from acting — or as he specifically phrases it "an effort to make sure the Senate does nothing."

"You saw the movie with Jimmy Stewart, 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' He took to the floor as a freshman senator and stood there speaking in a filibuster until he collapsed in physical exhaustion," Mr. Durbin notes. "Well, it does not quite happen that way anymore. What happens, of course, is someone says: I am going to stop the Senate, and you are going to have to come up with 60 votes to stop me."

Now, consider that the Democrats have 51 votes in this current Senate, while the Republicans have 49. As a result, "any time we want to move forward with a piece of legislation to which a Republican senator objects, we need their help to stop a filibuster. They know that," the senator continues.

In the entire history of the U.S. Congress, the minority party has initiated no more than 57 filibusters during any two-year period. "That is the record, 57 in two years," Mr. Durbin confirms.

Until now.

Barely a few months into the second year of the current Congress, he reports that the Republicans have thus far "initiated 65 filibusters, and we are still counting."

8,800 punches left

Good news from the architect of the Capitol's office, which says the long-awaited $621 million underground U.S. Capitol Visitor Center remains on target for a November opening.

Terrell G. Dorn, director of physical infrastructure issues for the office, has just informed the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch all that remains is an "extensive punch list, which now includes 8,800 tasks."

Otherwise, he says, the project is "99 percent complete."

Ink pays

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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