We Really Don't Have the Votes

In last year's elections, the American people gave the Democratic party control of Congress for one primary reason: the occupation in Iraq. The voters were frustrated with a war that has gone badly, and the stated reasons for which had been proven false one after the other. So they protested with the most influential weapon they had: their votes. But they also wanted a change in policy. They wanted Democrats in Congress to force change. Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it eloquently on election night 2006: "Nowhere did the American people make it more clear that we need a new direction than in the war in Iraq." Yet, the Democratic party has been in charge for 9 months now, and almost nothing has changed. George Bush still has the money to continue his occupation, an American general in Iraq just politicized the military conflict a week ago, and American soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians are still dying while a civil war continues to erupt in that country. I don't blame the American people for growing restless, and demanding further action from the Democratic leadership in Congress. A common excuse from the Democratic leadership has been thus: We simply do not have the votes to designate funding only for a responsible withdrawal (cut off funding for combat roles) to force a change in course in Iraq. We have a slim majority in the House, and with Joe Lieberman an ardent backer of our disasterous Iraq policy, in fact a minority on the issue of Iraq in the Senate. Bullshit, we said. Well, it turns out the damned Democratic leadership was actually right - at least in the Senate's case. Recent developments have left no doubt of that. First, on September 21, Sens. Levin (D-MI) and Reed (D-RI) put a bill before the Senate that would have mandated a responsible redeployment of US troops out of Iraqi combat roles. Given the Senate rules require 60 votes to cut off unlimited debate, the cloture motion - the motion to cut off debate - failed, garnering 47 each of affirmative and negative votes. Then, also in the last week, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid introduced a bill with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to cut off funding outright after next June for the current US combat role in Iraq. Cloture motion failed on that bill, too, this time only 28 Senators - all Democrats - voting in favor of it. 70 Senators voted against it. And at 56-44 vote - 4 shy of the 60 votes required to end debate, the measure introduced by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to give American soldiers equal time at home as they have spent on the battlefield fell to Republican obstructionism despite garnering majority support. All of these lead the the following inconvenient truth for the moment:
The Democratic leadership in Congress really do not have the votes to use the Congressional power of the purse to end the calamity in Iraq. We may not like it, folks, but it's the truth. They tried. Should they keep trying? Yes. But don't expect the Republicans to stop their obstructionism.
Now, you might say that the leadership has the power to keep funding bills from coming to the floor. Will they do it? Probably not. But even if they did, it's unlikely to succeed. Why? The answer is both procedural and political. Procedurally, there's the discharge petition. In the Senate, it only takes 30 Senators to sign a petition to bring a bill directly on the floor for a vote. It takes 41 votes to block a measure from coming to a vote. As we can see from the above, there simply aren't enough senators to entirely cut off funding, because the same senators who voted against the measure to cut off funding will vote - ultimately, if no other compromise can be worked out - to continue funding. In the House, it takes a majority vote to bring a bill to the floor. Once again, the Republicans and a few Democrats - either lacking a spine or being Liebercrats - will help fund the war. And politically, these moves would be seen as a revolt by rank-and-file Democratic members of Congress against their leadership, turning the debate onto the viability of the Democratic leadership from that of the Iraqi occupation. Either way, the leadership will not simply block measures to fund the war, when there clearly aren't majority support for doing that outright. And the Senate Republicans won't even let American soldiers get rest at home. We cannot fault the Democratic leadership for not trying. They did try. So what do we do now? Well, another inconvenient truth is the answer: this war must be brought to an end by the art of politics and democracy. The Democratic leadership should bring up votes over and over, keeping the debate to the forefront, and exposing the Republicans for who they are to the American people. The truth is that there are three ways to end this occupation: scare the pants off of enough Republicans with the idea that if they stick with this war, they will lose their seats in Congress, elect a larger progressive Democratic majority in Congress in 2008, and elect a Democratic president in 2008. Luckily, none of these avenues exclude any other. In fact, those routes are complementary. Oh, and another thing: the Democrats who are voting to keep the war going need to be taken out in primaries whenever they are up for re-election. The fear of losing their seats mustn't just be instilled in Republicans - it should make the minority of the Democrats who support the war shake in their boots, too. But through it all, we shouldn't forget which party is trying to end the war and which one is trying to perpetuate it. A majority of Senate Democrats voted to end the war at every chance - including the one measure to cut off funding outright. And a vast majority of Republicans voted against even giving our troops the rest they need after deployment to a war zone. Don't you forget that the next time you Republican aunt brings up how her party "supports the troops" at the the next family gathering.

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