Wasn’t it the R’s who wanted to change the Senate rules to prevent any type of filibusters? Weren’t they the party of up or down votes? Maybe I’m mistaken.
A long-awaited Senate showdown on the war in Iraq was slammed shut before it even started last night when a nearly united Republican front voted to stop the Senate from debating a resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 additional combat troops into battle.
A day of posturing, finger pointing and backroom wrangling came to nothing when Democratic and Republican leaders failed to reach agreement on which resolutions would come to a vote and which would be subject to a filibuster. Republicans insisted that the impasse soon would be broken, but after Democrats came up 11 votes short of the 60 needed to break the filibuster, a solution was nowhere in evidence.
“It is clear their actions are not driven by getting votes on Republican proposals. They are driven by a desire to provide political cover for President Bush,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “They can’t rubber-stamp the president’s policies in Iraq any more, so they’ve decided to stamp out debate and let the president’s escalation plan proceed unchecked.”
For their part, Republicans said they had no intention of avoiding the debate. They simply wanted a fair hearing on their own proposals.
“This vote this afternoon should not be misunderstood. This is a fairness vote,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
At issue are four separate resolutions. The main resolution, worked out by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), would put the Senate on record opposing the additional troop deployment and calling for a diplomatic initiative to settle the conflict, but it would also oppose a cut-off of funds for troops in the field of battle. The Republican leadership’s alternative, drafted by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), would establish tough new benchmarks for the Iraqi government to achieve but would not oppose the planned deployment.
Against those competing resolutions are two others replete with political mischief-making. The first, drafted by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), recognizes the power of the president to deploy troops and the “responsibility” of Congress to fund them before stating, “Congress should not take any action that will endanger United States military forces in the field, including the elimination or reduction of fund.” A second, hastily written by Democrats, would simply oppose the president’s plan and insist all troops are properly protected with body armor and other materiel.
The Democratic leadership gave Republicans a choice: Allow all four resolutions to come to a vote, with a simple majority needed for passage, or debate and vote on just two resolutions, Warner’s and McCain’s.
McConnell said each of the resolutions should only come to a vote if it attains the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. The reason was simple. Both Democrats and Republicans believe the only measure that could win 60 votes is Gregg’s.
Democratic leaders feared that a debate designed to put the Senate on record opposing President Bush’s war plan could conclude with passage of a resolution opposing a cutoff of funds for that plan.
To keep the heat on Republicans, Senate Democratic leaders charged that their opponents were simply trying to stifle a debate on the most hotly contested issue of the day.
“If Republicans cannot swallow the thin soup of the Warner resolution, how are they going to stomach a real debate on Iraq?” asked Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).
Republicans were less combative. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) dismissed Democratic charges as “a bunch of show-and-tell,” while McConnell called the dispute nothing more than “a bump in the road.”