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McConnell Abandons the Usual Senate Course on Iraq

March 27, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has decided to forgo the routine cloture battle that has repeatedly led to Republican victories against Democrat-sponsored Iraq legislation. The legislation currently at hand is nearly identical to a bill that Republicans defeated by cloture on March 15. It sets a series of benchmarks for the Iraqi government and a non-binding timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal. This time however, these Iraq provisions are attached to an emergency war funding bill with a total price tag of $122 billion. If the bill, or an alternative “clean” funding bill, isn’t approved, funding for U.S. troops will start to run out on April 15th.

As explained here, defeating a bill in cloture is a way that the minority can block a bill from moving forward. It is a somewhat less time consuming and more collegial form of filibustering.

Speculations as to why McConnell has decided not to filibuster this bill differ according to who you ask. Here are a couple of explanations from the blogosphere that cover the main competing interpretations:

Chris Bowers of My DD:

>Does anyone else find it suspicious that Republicans won’t try to filibuster this bill, even though they filibustered other bills Bush promised to veto, such as the original version of the minimum wage increase? Couldn’t McConnell have done exactly the same thing over the original version of the minimum wage bill, allow it to pass the Senate and then have bushy veto it, that he is doing here? Why protect Bush from the earlier veto, but force him into this veto? The only conclusion I can draw is that on the minimum wage, Senate Republicans wanted to take credit for the tax cuts they eventually forced into the minimum wage bill, but on Iraq they are tired of taking credit for Bush’s war. After all, while the American people like minimum wage increases and at least like the sound of tax cuts, they also hate Bush and hate the Iraq war. Of course they would want to take credit for the minimum wage bill, while forcing Bush to take credit for the war.

Ed Morrissey, of Captain’s Quarters, counters with two points:

>First, time is an issue. A filibuster of the bill would undoubtedly stop it from passing, but that will eat up a lot of time — and the funding of the troops runs out on April 15th. A spending bill has to get passed before then in order to ensure continuity of funding, including salaries, benefits, and so on. The Senate has to try to rewrite the bill so that it has no mandatory timetables for withdrawal, which Bush has made clear he will veto.
>Second, the Republicans believe that they can prevail against the House version of the supplemental. Rather than go through the obstructionism of a filibuster, they would much rather beat the bill in a roll-call vote, if necessary. Thad Cochran and John Warner have worked on another version of the bill which would require more reporting from the White House on benchmarks, but would not use them to trigger mandatory withdrawal from Iraq. That has apparently convinced Ben Nelson (D-NE) to support the alternative — which would also assuredly get Joe Lieberman’s vote.

There are other possible interpretations. For example, McConnell’s thinking may have integrated all three of the above points and ran something like this:

Avoid filibuster-style obstructionism and bring the bill to a vote quickly with the possibility of defeating it squarely with a vote on the Senate floor. If the vote fails, President Bush will be seen as the one who is out of touch with the public and Congress, obstructing the bill with a veto, not Senate Republicans. Plus, there would be enough time left to pass an alternative bill to keep funding for currently-deployed troops from running out on April 15.

Take a stab at deconstructing McConnell’s plan in the comments section.

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