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Iraq Debate: With a Vengeance

July 16, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate’s Iraq debate began typically last week for the 110th Congress. A popular Democratic proposal to require that U.S. troops be given more time at home between their deployments was blocked, even though an overwhelming majority of the Senate voted for it. The vote on that proposal was 56-41, but because of a Senate rule that allows the minority party to require 60 votes for the passage of any bill or amendment, it was considered a failure and its sponsor, Jim Webb (D-VA) was forced to withdraw it.

Senate Republicans in the 110th Congress have been putting up these 60-vote blockades in record numbers and Democrats have finally decided that they have had enough. Opening up the second week of the Iraq debate this afternoon, Harry Reid (D-NV), the Democratic leader in the Senate, announced his plan to force Republicans to do their blockading the old school way: an all-night filibuster. Here’s Reid’s announcement on the Senate floor right after he was informed of Republicans’ plans to require another 60-vote hurdle:

>M. President, my worst fears on this bill have been realized. We have just seen the Republican leadership again resort to technical maneuver to block progress on this crucial amendment. It would be one thing for Republicans to vote against this bill. If they honestly believe that “stay the course” is the right strategy — they have the right to vote “no.”
>But now, Republicans are using a filibuster to block us from even voting on an amendment that could bring the war to a responsible end. They are protecting the President rather than protecting our troops.
>They are denying us an up or down — yes or no — vote on the most important issue our country faces.
>I would like to inform the Republican leadership and all my colleagues that we have no intention of backing down. If Republicans do not allow a vote on Levin/Reed today or tomorrow, we will work straight through the night on Tuesday.
>The American people deserve an open and honest debate on this war, and they deserve an up or down vote on this amendment to end it.

It’s appropriate for Democrats to require a clear cut vote on this amendment — it’s the clearest of all their proposals to wind down the war. It simply calls for a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days of enactment and to be completed by Aril 1st, 2008. Only a limited number of troops would remain in Iraq for the purposes of policing the region, training the Iraqi military, and carrying out specific counterterrorism missions. No extraneous funding or troop readiness requirements are attached.

Forcing a vote on this amendment confronts senators wit ha clear question: at this point, would you rather bring the war to a gradual end or let it continue in its current direction? With the 60-vote requirement Republicans have been using, nothing has been clear. The vote that gets recorded isn’t actually on the proposal, but on a agreeing to a motion to proceed to its consideration. Since the passage of this amendment would certainly cause the overall bill they are considering to be vetoed by President Bush, the only real thing they have to gain is a clear record of where each senators stand on the war. The public is clearly looking for a new direction in Iraq and Democrats want to distance themselves from Bush’s policies while showing which Republicans are not willing to do the same.

The Levin-Reed amendment is similar to a bill that passed the House of Representatives last week. The only difference is that the House bill would require the withdrawal to be completed by March 2008 rather than April 2008. The House does not have a rule allowing the minority party to require a 60-vote hurdle and the bill passed on a vote of 223-201, well short of an equivalent and hypothetical 60-vote (3/5ths majority) target.

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