Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Filibuster

I have very mixed feelings about last night's happenings in the US Senate. Harry Reid had planned to force the Republicans to carry out an old-fashioned filibuster, rather than the more common way of declaring a filibuster and then the other side giving in, without going through the process of one.

Here is what Wikipedia says a filibuster is:
As a form of obstructionism in a legislature or other decision making body, a filibuster is an attempt to extend debate upon a proposal in order to delay or completely prevent a vote on its passage. The term first came into use in the United States Senate, where Senate rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless a supermajority group of 60% of senators brings debate to a close by invoking cloture.
Under Senate rules, debate generally need not be relevant to the topic under discussion, and there have been cases in which a Senator has undertaken part of a speech by reading from a telephone directory. Strom Thurmond (D/R-SC) set a record in 1957 by filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 minutes, although the bill ultimately passed. Thurmond broke the previous record of 22 hours and 26 minutes set by Wayne Morse (I-OR) in 1953 protesting the Tidelands Oil legislation.

Preparations for a filibuster can be very elaborate. Sometimes cots are brought into the hallways or cloakrooms for senators to sleep on. According to Newsweek, "They used to call it 'taking to the diaper,' a phrase that referred to the preparation undertaken by a prudent senator before an extended filibuster. Strom Thurmond visited a steam room before his filibuster in order to dehydrate himself so he could drink without urinating. An aide stood by in the cloakroom with a pail in case of emergency."
In current practice, Senate Rule 22 permits procedural filibusters, in which actual continuous floor speeches are not required, although the Senate Majority Leader may require an actual traditional filibuster if he or she so chooses. This threat of a filibuster can be just as powerful as an actual filibuster.

That last paragraph covers the method used as of late. However, Harry Reid did require the traditional filibuster, and that's where the Senate Slumber Party came in last night.

The subject at hand was whether to vote on the Reed-Levin Amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill, known as the Iraq Redeployment Bill. The Republicans did not want to be forced to vote for or against it, and so instead, they filibustered, so that they wouldn't be put in that position.

Last night, cloture was not reached, and this morning, I watched as Reid voted against cloture on the bill, so that he could move to reconsider it next week.

Four Republicans voted for invoking cloture on the bill. They were Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME), Chuck Hagel (NE), and Gordon Smith (OR).

On one hand, I'm glad we have leaders in the Senate that have enough balls to force this issue, at long last. But, I think they should have done more. Reid could have kept this going, if he had chosen to. Then again, I think he's been around long enough that he probably has more up his sleeve than we know about.

Interestingly, the White House released the new National Intelligence Estimate yesterday, just as the debate began. The White House also announced that they'd captured a major al Qaida leader. Of course, the fact that they captured him 2 weeks ago has been largely ignored. I don't believe the timing of these two issues was a coincidence. But, I do think it will continue to be ignored, much like the rest the smoke Bush blows.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. I wish everyone would speak out, by sending email to our Senators through, calling or writing them, and/or initiating the conversation with people around you.
Senator Robert Bennett
Phone: 202-224-5444

Senator Orrin Hatch
Phone: 202-224-5251

Senate Democrats give us the results of yesterday's 24 Hours of Debate on Iraq: By The Numbers:
In the 24 hours that the Senate debated the Levin-Reed Amendment, thousands of Americans across the country made their voices heard in support of a new direction in Iraq. In that time, millions of dollars more were spent, and even more lives were lost in Iraq. In the Senate, as Democrats pushed for a new direction in Iraq the Grand Obstruction Party continued their tactics to block the will of the American people.

Support accross the country for changing course in Iraq:
59,603 - Faxes and counting sent to Senators in support of Levin-Reed Amendment

10 – Iraq Veterans who spent the day lobbying Senators for a change of course in Iraq.

155 - Events held around the country hosted by Americans Against Escalation,, and the “Iraq Summer Campaign” in support of changing course in Iraq. [Americans Against Escalation in Iraq Memo, 7/18/07]

450 – People who attended a Call to Action by Candlelight in Upper Senate Park.

21 – Democratic Senators who attended a Call to Action by Candlelight in Upper Senate Park.

57 – Democratic House members who attended Call to Action by Candlelight in Upper Senate Park.

33 – Democratic Senators who spoke on the floor in favor of a change of course in Iraq. [Senate Floor Proceedings, 7/17/07, 7/18/07]

2 – New Senators to vote for a change of course in Iraq. [Senate Vote 252, HR 1585, 7/18/07]

Costs of war in Iraq continue to rise:
3 - U.S. soldiers reported killed in Iraq on July 17. []

168 - Iraqis reported killed on July 17. [, 7/17/07]

86 – Iraqis reported wounded on July 17. [, 7/17/07]

$322 Million – Amount of taxpayer dollars spent in Iraq on July 17. [CRS, 6/28/07]

Grand Obstruction Party blocks efforts to change course in Iraq:
8 – Number of times Republicans obstructed giving the Levin-Reed amendment a majority vote. [Senate Floor Proceedings, 7/17/07, 7/18/07]

7 – Number of Republican Senators who have recently spoken out against escalation and for redeployment, but who voted against changing course in Iraq. Senate Vote 252, HR 1585, 7/18/07]

I find it really odd that there are so many Senators who are unwilling to show where they stand by voting on the issue. What are they so afraid of? Yes, the answer is obvious, but then again, do we really want our legislators to be that dishonest with us, that they refuse to take a real stand on what they believe?

Ah, well. I'm done with my rant. One last thing I want to say - if you appreciated what Harry Reid did yesterday and today, here's a good way to say "thanks" (or send him an email).