We hear over and over again that it “takes 60 votes to get something serious done in the Senate.” That is a lot of malarkey. It takes only one senator to begin a filibuster against any bill. And then it takes only 41 votes to uphold that filibuster and prevent any proposed law from coming to the floor.
Thus, the present authorization for defense funding in the coming fiscal year can be stopped cold if it contains funds for the war on Iraq. And this can be done by just one courageous Senator, backed by 40 colleagues.
Let me propose the following scenario. Just one Senator, Ted Kennedy or Russ Feingold or Robert Byrd, arises in the Senate and declares that he will filibuster the present defense authorization bill if it contains funds for the war on Iraq or Iran. That bill is then dead unless there are 60 votes (3/5 of the 100 Senators) to end the debate, i.e., to invoke cloture. That is it. Bush no longer has the funds to prosecute the war. He has to come back with a funding bill acceptable to the 41.
At the same time the filibustering Senator could put forth a resolution similar to Congressman McGovern’s in the House, which is aptly named “The Safe and Orderly Withdrawal Act.” It provides funds to ensure the withdrawal of U.S, forces from Iraq in a way that guarantees their safety, and no other funding for the war. If the opponents of our hypothetical, courageous Senator wish to oppose such legislation, let them go on record in so doing. They are then on record as refusing funds to bring the troops safely home.
The Republicans have shown in their very first weeks in opposition that they have the ovaries to do what the Democrats will not. Today (February, 5) they raised 49 votes in the Senate to prevent a relatively harmless non-binding resolution against Bush’s so-called “surge.” These votes included Democrats Joseph Lieberman and Henry Reid, the Senate majority leader! (1)
Right now there are 18 sitting Senators who voted against the war in 2002. And there are 13 more who voted for the war and now say they regret it. That comes to 31 nominally antiwar Senators.(2) In addition there are 4 new Senators, Barak Obama among them, who claim to be against the war. That brings the count to 35 of the necessary 41, leaving only 6 more needed. And the Democrats now have 51 seats, with at least one or two Republican antiwar Senators to boot. So it would take only 41 out of 51 who claim to be against the war to actually end the war. If they are not lying about their anti-war position, let them stand up and be counted. For example, Hillary Clinton, who is not among those who regret their vote in 2002, were to be one of a handful who refused to vote for cloture, what would happen to her chances in 2008? Let her and others who claim to be against the war go on record for or against the filibuster.
As Charlie Richardson and others of Military Families Speak Out said so eloquently in UFPJ’s recent lobbying effort at the Capitol, Congressmen cannot be against the war and for its funding. If the Democrats continue to fund the war, then they own it. It is their war as well Bush’s. (And to that I would add that of course it has been the Democrats’ war as well as Bush’s all along. Many voted for it in October, 2002, when they controlled the Senate, for the sake of their presidential ambitions or because they faced a tough re-election campaign.)
What are the odds that even a handful of Senators will begin a filibuster against the war? Pretty minimal, I fear, given the power of AIPAC and other pro-war forces within the Democratic Party. But the Senators should be pressured intensely, no holds barred, to do so anyway. We should have a version of the Occupation Project, for example, to target our Senators to join a filibuster and commit to upholding it by voting against cloture. Acts of non-violent civil disobedience at local Senate offices will bring attention to their position–and to their hypocrisy if they claim to be against the war but refuse to vote that way. Perhaps some Senators will give in to pressure if they realize that their re-election is at stake. And we are now at a moment of societal upheaval over the war, with splits among the ruling class, one faction of which is furious with the neocons for creating this disaster. So anything can happen. But even if the Senators refuse, we shall know where everyone stands. And if the Democratic Senators fail to do the bidding of the people, it helps the antiwar movement to know that we must look beyond the Democratic Party for a true champion of peace in ’08 and beyond.
It is also interesting the John McCain abstained on this vote, no doubt fearing for his presidential ambitions. Nor did Martinez (R) or Democrats Landrieu or Johnson vote. Unfortunately the purportedly anti-war Chuck Hagel voted for cloture. Susan Collins (R) voted with the Democrats against cloture, knowing a vote on the other side could cost her re-election in Maine.