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Iraq Resolution Blocked From Debate

February 5, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The non-binding Warner-Levin Iraq resolution, which states that the Senate “disagrees” with the plan to increase the amount of troops in Iraq, was blocked from debate in the Senate yesterday. Republicans voted almost unanimously against a motion to begin debate on the resolution because they wanted the chance to debate other Republican-authored resolutions as well. That is, at least, the reason being stated for their vote to block debate; they are protesting the Democratic leadership, who they claim are blocking debate on two other Iraq resolutions. Senate Democrats do not see it that way. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate Majority Leader, is accusing the Republicans of trying to avoid debate on this matter altogether. Both parties are accusing the other of essentially the same thing: blocking debate on Iraq resolutions.

A good way to figure out which side is actually blocking the debate, is to look at how each side is reacting within Senate rules.

The Republicans were openly reacting to the rules with which the resolution was to be considered. Under the rules the Democratic senate leadership was putting forth, the resolution would have needed only a simple majority (51 votes) to be branded with the Senate’s approval. It would have easily gotten that amount, although it would have undoubtedly been up against a Republican-led filibuster. The vote yesterday saved the time that a filibuster would have wasted. It said to Democrats: you do not have the votes you need to end a filibuster (60), and we are obviously going to filibuster this, so you might as well go no further with this resolution.

The Democrats, in trying to bring the resolution to a vote in the manner they did, were also acting according to parliamentary strategy. The Judd Gregg (R-NH) Iraq resolution, one of the resolutions that the Republicans urged debate on, vows not to cut funding for U.S. troops, an option that the Democrats are sure they want to leave open for the future. The Republicans likely want this resolution debated because they are confident that it is the only one that would attract a filibuster-proof 60 votes and earn the Senate’s approval. Democrats may have known that allowing the Gregg resolution into the debate would mean that it would be the one to pass, and tried to block it from debate as a precautionary measure.

Both sides were likely reacting to the other, and blocking what they felt to be damaging parliamentary advances. Neither side, however, did anything wrong. The Senate is designed and time-tested to withstand exactly this kind of tug of war between the opposing parties. The minority party is given the power of the filibuster to keep the majority in check, while the majority is given the power to plan and shape the proceedings. Both sides wielded their powers to a draw on this issue; a sign that, perhaps, Congress (and, if the system of representative democracy is working well, the public) is not ready for even a non-binding resolution against a troop increase in Iraq.

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