The Republican minority blocking Senate voting on Democrat proposals for pulling back American involvement in Iraq is using a filibuster to prevent action being taken. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to force a vote on such a proposal, and there may actually be enough Republicans who agree with the Democrats to reach that number. But some of these Republicans, supposedly out of respect for the Senate rules on unlimited “debate” and in loyalty to Senate Republican leaders and to Bush, are not willing to let the proposals come to a vote. It is also possible that some of these Republicans are talking out of both sides of their mouth, telling their constituents that they are opposed to this unpopular war, but telling party leaders they actually continue to support it.
Filibusters have no constitutional basis; they are solely a creation of Senate rules. The Senate indulges a fantasy of being a wise deliberative body which makes decisions only after extensive debate. The reality is that Senators all have strong ideological views and there is little Senatorial deliberation or debate. Compromises and vote trading (known as log rolling
) are the ways close legislation gets passed. Filibusters can be rationalized in two ways. The first is that a minority position on an issue may be held with such a depth of conviction that the minority could not in good conscience and as a matter of principle ever allow the position to be lost. This rationale implies that today’s majority understands that they might be tomorrow’s minority, and therefore respects the minority filibuster right out of enlightened self-interest.
The number of filibusters (and threats of filibusters, which can be just as effective) has increased because many Senators now claim deep convictions, better consciences and stronger principles - at least as a legislative tool. This points out the second rationale for the filibuster, that it is simply a super-majority requirement that can be employed at will. While the first rationale might arguably have some heroic imagery such as Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
”, the more accurate picture is of a Southern Senator protecting Jimmy Crow from civil rights legislation. [This short US Senate article
notes the historic 1964 vote ending the filibuster of the civil rights bill, the last speaker in opposition to the legislation being Senator Byrd from West Virginia, who is still sitting in the Senate].
The filibuster, like terrorism, is a tactic. In fact the word traces back to the Dutch and basically means piracy
. The House of Representatives very early adopted rules limiting debate in order that matters could be brought to a vote. The Senate should do the same. The Constitution has sufficient checks and balances to protect the legislative process including: House member being concerned for re-election every two years; Senators being more insulated from the polls by six year terms; both chambers having to agree on legislation to be sent to the President; Presidential veto power, requiring 2/3 vote of both chambers to overturn; and Supreme Court review to determine constitutionality.
The current debate over the Iraq occupation is being delayed by Senate filibuster, but the real delay on Iraq comes from the White House. Even if the Senate had no filibuster and both chambers agreed on a measure to send the President, he would veto it. Since the Vice-President has no elective aspirations, there is no pressure from him to make the President do what the people want. (One of the many negative lessons from the Bush-Cheney years is the danger of having both a lame duck President and Vice-President; it might be advisable to always have a Vice-President with elective ambitions). There is not going to be a 2/3 majority in either chamber to overturn a Bush veto, because as unpopular as the occupation of Iraq is and as many more of our soldiers die and as much more of our money is wasted on the fiasco, not enough Americans are willing to threaten their Representatives and Senators with voting them out of office. If those being killed included draftees, the threats to Congress might be great enough to bring an overturn and maybe even to prevent a veto in the first place. Another lesson might be that any future Congressional authorization of the use of military force include a requirement that a significant percentage of those in combat must be draftees.
As stated here before, I believe the occupation of Iraq will continue much the same as now, until Bush is out of office. General Petraeus
is not going to say his plan is a failure or he failed in executing it. Bush will not become reasonable. Congress will not force change through legislation and veto overturn. The American people have turned their attention to who will be the next President, and are not willing to force Congress to end the occupation, perhaps because they believe that even if Congress joined the people in telling Bush to end the occupation, Bush would continue to defy Congress and the people - and impeachment would take about as long as Bush has left.