Democrats Force ‘Real’ Filibuster on Iraq
Senate Democrats have decided to force Republicans to actually debate non-stop if they want to kill a bill that would force withdrawal from Iraq.
Senate Democrats refused to flinch Tuesday as the chamber moved toward a rare, all-night session of debate on legislation to bring troops home this fall. They called for sleeping cots to be rolled into a room off the Senate floor and told members to prepare for repeated votes throughout the evening. Senators even left open the possibility of dispatching the sergeant at arms to summon colleagues from their homes to the floor if lawmakers ignored the debate.
The goal of the planned marathon debate was to test the patience of Republicans, who have threatened to filibuster the bill. So far, the GOP leadership has been successful at blocking anti-war legislation because Democrats don’t have the 60 votes to cut off what would become an endless debate on the war. After months of threatened filibuster, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said it was “time for a taste of the real thing.”
Republicans dismissed the maneuver as political theater and said the Senate should vote forgo the debate and vote immediately on whether to advance the measure. Whether the vote comes Tuesday or Wednesday, the proposal is expected to gain a majority of senators, but not reach the 60-vote threshold.
The legislation, proposed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., would order troops to start leaving in 120 days and complete the pullout by April 30, 2008. Under the bill, an unspecified number of troops could remain behind to fight terrorists, protect U.S. assets and train Iraqi security forces.
While this is indeed an absurd bit of political theater, it strikes me as very worthwhile in this case.
I’m not a big fan of the filibuster as it has evolved in recent years. The ability of a vehement and sizable minority to stop legislation is extra-constitutional but nonetheless a longstanding tradition and a means of preventing major policy swings being shoved down our throats on thin consensus. Unfortunately, two things have undermined the practice’s legitimacy: The increasing use of the filibuster for relatively trivial matters, including votes on presidential nominees, and the doing away with the need to actually filibuster to kill the bill; a mere threat of a filibuster generally suffices. Indeed, the latter has contributed to the former.
It’s good, too, to occasionally remind ourselves that the minority doesn’t have an inherent right to veto legislation. Rather, the filibuster is a byproduct of the Senate tradition of unlimited debate. Why not, then, force those who want to kill measures supported by the minority to actually pull a Mr. Smith and lose a night’s sleep?
This particular bill is the perfect vehicle for this, too. Certainly, there’s no more important matter of public debate than whether the nation is committed to continuing a war.