Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Many Voices, No Debate, as Senate Is Stifled on War

NYT reported The fact that that Democrats could pull together only 49 of the 60 votes needed to break a procedural impasse on the resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s plan was a product of many competing agendas.

That is because they wanted to ram through one proposal and not let the others be debated.
There was the Democratic desire to avoid getting tied up on any vote that could be perceived as undercutting United States troops or endorsing Mr. Bush’s plan. At the same time, a surprising number of Republicans showed they were not yet ready to abandon the president even though many blame him for their November election losses and worry he will hurt them again next year. Then there were the presidential ambitions of several senators who are trying to distinguish themselves from others on the issue, and have little incentive to seek common ground.

By the end of the day on Tuesday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he saw little prospect that Democrats and Republicans could reach agreement on a plan to bring the resolution to the floor. “The negotiations are over,” said Mr. Reid, who dismissed Republican efforts to force a separate vote on the war money as a ploy intended to distract the public from the matter of whether senators supported or opposed the president’s policy.
Such a vote would have allowed them to say what they thought.
Republicans spent the day trying to counter the idea that they had been obstructionists in impeding the debate. It was a label they had successfully hung on Democrats for years, and they did not appreciate the role reversal. They said their main goal had been to ensure that the Senate could guarantee in a separate resolution that Congress would not endanger forces in the field by restricting spending in the future.

“I can’t believe that any parent, any husband, wife, son, daughter of any soldier serving in Iraq doesn’t expect the Congress to take that position,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who had made some retooled overtures to Democrats to try to break the deadlock.

But the lingering impasse forced the hand of House Democrats, who had become increasingly impatient waiting for the Senate to weigh in on the president’s troop plan. Unwilling to wait any longer, the Democratic leadership said it would set aside three days next week to deliver its own verdict on the administration strategy.
Which they can ram through because they don't have unlimited debate.
“The reason we’re going ahead is not because we don’t think the Senate will ever act,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, “but we’re not sure when the Senate is going to act.”

Democrats contend that they foisted off most of the blame for the breakdown on Republicans and were more than happy to have the fight end for now, leaving the opposition trying to explain the complex Senate rules and why Republicans had not been willing to go ahead.
The republicans wanted debate. It was the dems that did not.
We have the high ground here,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “We have the high ground substantively. We have the high ground politically. We’re not going to give it up.”

But some Republicans suggested that the public might grow frustrated with such political crowing. “I think most Americans view this as political theater, that it is more about us than supporting the troops,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

The Senate fight also exposed a weakness for the Democrats, one that will become more pronounced as the Senate moves from its inability to take up a nonbinding resolution making a statement about administration policy to more consequential votes on war spending.

Republicans had laid a bit of a trap for Democrats, seeking a 60-vote threshold for competing resolutions on the war. They knew that the bipartisan plan by Senators John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, did not have 60 votes. But the plan calling for no reductions in spending, written by Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, was likely to get at least 60, meaning the only resolution that would have passed would have been one that essentially backed the president.

Most Democrats are not ready to begin the politically charged discussion of restricting war spending. “There isn’t a Democrat here that wants to take monies away from the troops,” Mr. Reid said.

Democrats said Republicans were simply trying to dodge the chief question at hand and if it was not the financing proposal, they would have found something else to muck up the proceedings. And there is little doubt that some Republicans are determined to save the president an embarrassing loss while others are just as determined to deny the Democrats a symbolic win.

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