The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

This morning I had the chance to participate in a conference call with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to talk about what's happening in his chamber in the next little while. I'll get to the substance of the conversation as well as my impressions of it in a moment, but first let me pass on the AP's account of Reid's strategy to hold Iraq votes in the coming weeks from reporter Anne Flaherty.

Under Reid's plan, the Senate will cast separate votes on whether to cut off funding for combat next year, order troop withdrawals within four months, impose stricter standards on the length of combat tours and rescind congressional authorization for the Iraqi invasion.

The measures likely will be offered as amendments to the 2008 defense authorization bill, a measure that approves $649 billion in military spending.


The legislative proposals will probably fall short of the 60 votes needed to pass controversial legislation under Senate rules. Many GOP members say they are willing to wait until September before they call for change, giving the president's new strategy of Iraq a chance to work.

When Reid talked about the need to get 60 votes, as noted in the AP report above, I asked him just why 60 votes would really be needed -- wouldn't it be more effective to not only force Senate Republicans to vote no on cloture votes but to actually sustain a filibuster, physically talking the bill to death? Reid seemed to answer in the affirmative that Democrats should put the pressure on Republicans but at the same time seemed to stop short of endorsing a move to keep the Republicans talking indefintely, blocking funds from going to American troops in Iraq.

Judging by the polling, it is just not the case that the Democrats in Congress gained politically from the last debate over funding for the Iraq War. In fact, polling indicates that Congress' approval rating has dropped more than 3 points since the debate over the Iraq supplemental bill really heated up in mid-April. It certainly seems to be the case that President Bush and the Republicans also suffered as a result of their gamesmanship on the issue -- the President's approval rating has dropped more than 2 points over this same period, according to a composite of polls. But at the same time, the Democrats' strategy of allowing for funding bills to move forward without real accountability or a timeline for the withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq is just not working politically.

That's why I'd like to see Senate Democrats force Senate Republicans to actually filibuster over Iraq. Put the onus entirely on them. Really step up the pressure. While this might not expedite the beginning of the redeployment of American troops, which indeed it the ultimate goal, it will at least show the American people that the Democrats are willing to stand up for what they profess to believe in and it will put Republicans in the position of playing politics over the war and obstructing any real accountability on the issue.

Update [2007-6-12 23:16:9 by Jonathan Singer]: I just want to make clear that I understand that the Democrats in the Senate are starting at a distinct disadvantage, holding just 49 votes with Tim Johnson out until September (hopefully, if his rehabilitation continues to proceed) and with Joe Lieberman voting with Republicans on Iraq. What's more, I understand that this is a somewhat soft 49, with some Senators not willing to go as far as others or, alternatively, some Senators only willing to go so far. That said, I think it's important to keep the pressure on Senate Republicans, both the caucus as a whole and individual members (particularly those up for reelection in 2008 and even 2010), so that they are continually put on the record as supporting an unending U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Tags: 110th congress, Democrats, Harry Reid, Iraq (all tags)



Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

If senate democrats adopt netroots' confrontational and radical approach, their approval rating will go down further. If the funding is indeed cut, we can pretty much say goodbye to the white house next year.

by carolinezhang 2007-06-12 06:53PM | 0 recs

If the Republicans refuse to fund the Iraq Debacle, we screwed!

by BingoL 2007-06-12 07:00PM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

Are you serious?  So accepting of right wing frames, you are.

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2007-06-12 07:23PM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

I repeat my comments from an earlier diary - the academic community near uniformely suggest we not leave Iraq.  Bush's plan is terrible, and Biden's plan isn't all the likely to work, a long term poor solution is probably the most likely and most pragmatic well as scaling back our forces to only protect our interests.

by gb1437a 2007-06-12 07:37PM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

What academic community are you referring to?  And what poor long term solution?

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2007-06-12 09:57PM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step

That which recently gathered for a conference from the Fares' Center at tufts...the one at the nations #2 IR school at AU.  A poor longterm solution would be a dictorial or permenetly unstable regime.  What they say, mostly non-american Islamic scholars who are very critical of the Bush administration, is that deaths would go from 100 a day to 500 a day if we pull out.

by gb1437a 2007-06-13 08:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Are you lost or sarcastic?

As the clock ticks, people are dying and the country is getting robbed blind. Inaction on this is criminal and Harry Reid is a waste of time.

by dkmich 2007-06-13 01:35AM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

You're mistakengly thinking that the country supports the war. Last I checked 70+% of the American public want the war to come to an end. The soldiers themselves will be grateful if we were just take them out of that hellhole that is Iraq.

by AnthonyMason2k6 2007-06-13 12:03PM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

Is there any way to ask Reid to clarify his opposition to this plan? I honestly don't understand what the leadership is afraid of--they don't want to put Republicans on the spot?

Well, I suppose they think that even an ongoing Republican filibuster of a funding bill will be greeted with the headlines: "Republican Filibuster  Prevents Democrats from Abandoning Troops." But given how the 'sensible compromise of giving Bush everything he wanted drove down D numbers, despite the fact that we played the issue like a Stradivarius, I'm not sure how much we have to lose.

So. You're the guy who gets conference calls with the Majority Leader. What the hell can we do?

by BingoL 2007-06-12 06:59PM | 0 recs
They need to do something

I agree with you Jonathan. The American people are waiting for the Democrats to do something.

by Korha 2007-06-12 07:05PM | 0 recs
Re: They need to do something

Yeah, for a boxer, Harry's aren't made of brass or steel.

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2007-06-12 07:25PM | 0 recs
Re: They need to do something

Do what? Unless we have a president, everything passed in the congress on the war is just symbolic.

There is NOT much you can do!

by carolinezhang 2007-06-12 07:25PM | 0 recs
Re: They need to do something

So why bother passing anything?  Since Bush will likely veto anything the Dems pass.

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2007-06-12 09:58PM | 0 recs
Re: They need to do something

You support Hillary, don't you?  

by HSTruman 2007-06-13 05:02AM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

In fact, polling indicates that Congress' approval rating has dropped more than 3 points since the debate over the Iraq supplemental bill really heated up in mid-April.

Something maybe just as critical but harder to measure by polls is that the Congress has lost the trust of the base over this. I wonder what they can do to gain it back.

by mcc 2007-06-12 07:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

Congress has lost trust in "the base"?  WTF?  We're the guys who put them in power and, last time I checked, anger over the war wasn't restricted to some small percentage of "the base" anyway...  If Congress no longer trusts their constituents there's an easy fix: get new congressmen.

by BlueCollarHeresy 2007-06-12 11:38PM | 0 recs

Yes, we want to put pressure on Republican Senators, but we also want to put pressure onto soft Democrats.

by jayackroyd 2007-06-12 07:43PM | 0 recs
Maybe Backwards

Perhaps Reid cannot come out and say it, but behind the scenes he should work with his caucus to sustain a Feingold-initiated filibuster. Dodd would then come in as a reliever, and then Kerry, and Kennedy, and so on.

The last supplemental was the time to do this, but it could be done again.

I don't think we want Republicans on the Senate floor doing all the talking. It's the Democrats that need to be the ones running the show. And, while the filibuster is going on, other filibuster supporters stay in front of every other camera (CNN, MSNBC, etc.), blog, reporter, etc.

The other approach (or perhaps in combination) is the one John Edwards recommended so wisely: keep sending the "same" bill back to the President. Send it back every day, every week, forever until he signs it or until Congressional Republicans finally override. Each time change a single word (like "the"). Or change the number of days the Iraq Civil War has been running in the preamble.

by BBCWatcher 2007-06-12 07:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Maybe Backwards

Unfortunately, the "same bill" probably would not pass the Senate today. From the reporting at the time (and I'm going from memory here) the two Republican Senators who voted in favor of the first Senate Iraq bill with a timeline, as well as Ben Nelson, indicated that they would be willing to do so only under the condition that a clean bill would be brought to a vote were the President to veto the first bill. I'm not a whip on the floor of the Senate, but from the reporting (at the least) it sounds like there are not 51 votes in favor of the original bill.

by Jonathan Singer 2007-06-12 07:53PM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

First thing I want to know is whether the $647 billion is enough to "fund the troops" through FY08, or whether the plan is to come back for another "supplemental" next year.  You'd think that by the time a war is in its 7th year, it has become the status quo and you can budget for it in advance.

-- TP

by Rethymniotis 2007-06-12 09:39PM | 0 recs
Thanks for raising the filibuster issue, Jonathan!

It's way overdue for the Dems to force the GOP to pay a price for blocking cloture.  They should have done this back in the winter with the minimum-wage bill.  And they might do well to bring the min-wage bill back up again, just to force the GOP to filibuster.

I'd be all for the GOP spending hour after hour telling Americans why a 'clean' min-wage increase is too hazardous to attempt.

by RT 2007-06-13 05:01AM | 0 recs

I was under the impression that current Senate procedures do not actually allow for a keep-on-talking filibuster - if the cloture vote fails there can't be a vote on the measure, so there's no need for the talking. Could someone clarify the procedural elements here?

by Dave Thomer 2007-06-13 06:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Procedure

More a question of change in practice: what we have now is what Fisk and Chemerinsky (must-have article) call the stealth filibuster which derives from a reform of Mike Mansfield's dating from the early 70s.

The deal is: filibustering now comes with much smaller (but not negligible) cost to the filibuster and other senators, which means that everybody's doing it.

(Try the filibuster tag from early 06 (the Alito fracas) - or even my latest.)  

by skeptic06 2007-06-13 07:35AM | 0 recs
Let me back up a second

OK, so the suggestion here is that, in order to have a real keep-on-talking filibuster, the Dems would

1) open debate on the bill;

  1. never move to invoke cloture;
  2. decline to use the two-track system to consider other business.

Now, if all of the Republicans save one are off the floor, could the Republican just sit back and do nothing except make quorum calls whenever the Dems try to vote on the measure?

If this is so, then the Dem response would have to be to try and get the sergeant-at-arms to bring the absent Republicans to the floor, right?

OK, then let's say that works. There's a quorum. The Dems figure it's time to sit back and wait while the Republicans talk. Could the Republicans then file a cloture motion themselves, which would then fail? Could they just keep on doing this without actually having to stand around and talk?

OK, let's say you got all of this to work somehow and the Republicans did have to keep on talking. Wouldn't the fact that the Democrats are choosing not to use the two-track system mean that it's the Democrats who are holding up every other measure? Would this idea make it out to the public? Would they hold it against the Dems?

by Dave Thomer 2007-06-13 03:15PM | 0 recs
the advantage of an Iraq supplemental

Congress has a lot of power to add conditions in an Iraq-specific supplemental because they can tell Bush to take it or leave it. IMHO, this is exactly what Reid and Pelosi should have said with the last bill (the one with the withdrawal timelines). I never understood how Congress got put on the defensive when GWB was the one begging for money for a project that 70% of the population no longer supports. (I would like to negotiate my next raise with a boss like the US Congress.)

Anyway, the take-it-or-leave-it approach won't work on an omnibus defense budget bill, which indeed has to be passed, making a veto a genuine threat.

by peterh32 2007-06-13 08:32AM | 0 recs
Re: The Next Step in the Senate on Iraq

This is just another lame attempt by Reid and the Democrats.  He had a chance to step up to the plate a few weeks back and he strucked out.  All of this is hot air.  How many soldiers will die, while Reid plans for next year?

by AnthonyMason2k6 2007-06-13 12:00PM | 0 recs
by palalam 2007-06-15 02:31AM | 0 recs


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