When winning is still losing

Antiwar legislation can get majority support in the Senate, but not a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Why are Democrats letting Republicans off so easy?


Joan Walsh
September 20, 2007 2:24PM (UTC)

Sen. Jim Webb's bill requiring home leave equal to time at the front for active-duty soldiers failed Wednesday when Republicans peeled off in the face of lobbying by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others. Retiring GOP Sen. John Warner switched his vote and opposed the bill, which he'd supported in July. Despite Republican breast-beating during the Senate Petraeus hearings last week, Webb's bill got the same number of votes it did when he last introduced it. It doesn't bode well for plans to reintroduce firm timelines for troop withdrawal this month, but the Democrats have to do it anyway.

Rep. Jack Murtha says Republicans are telling him they won't buck the party's rabid pro-war base until after primary season. Does that sound familiar? Back in the spring, GOP leaders were telling reporters they'd give the president until this September -- the traditional start of the political season -- to turn things around in Iraq, and if he hadn't, they'd demand a course change. September came, and that didn't happen, so why should we expect things to be any different after the primaries? As Chris Matthews noted on "Hardball" today -- I was on the Hardball Panel -- with 60 to 90 Americans dying every month, the cynical Republican inaction guarantees another 600 to 900 dead American soldiers, at minimum, before GOP leaders have the guts to stand up to their isolated, pro-war base next summer. And I have no reason to believe they'll grow a spine by then.

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Webb's bill failed 56-44, with 56 senators behind it. If you're wondering how a bill can get majority support but still not pass -- other antiwar bills have likewise garnered majority backing, as did the bill to restore habeas corpus that "failed" Tuesday -- it's because Democrats agreed to Senate rules requiring bills to gain a 60-vote, filibuster-proof super-majority to move forward. Digby explains the process here, and I share the conclusion she draws: Why aren't Democrats making Republicans spend political energy actively filibustering, instead of colluding in this gutless virtual filibuster? Am I missing something?


Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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