Jim Webb's Righteous Amendment


The best thing about the grey eminence John Warner finally leaving the Senate is that he will no longer be around to play Lucy pulling the football away from the Democrats at the last minute any more. For some reason, the political establishment persists in seeing him as some sort of independent player when he has actually been one of the more destructive forces in the Congress, using his status as elder statesman to give cover over and over again to the worst excesses of the GOP.

Last fall the Democratic leaders in the Senate allowed Sens. Warner, Lindsay Graham and John McCain to negotiate the Destroy Habeas Corpus Act (also known as the Military Commissions Act) with the White House. High-fives were exchanged all around at what a brilliant idea it was to have the great and good Warner, the torture victim McCain and the always reasonable Graham stand up to the White House and force an internecine battle to save the Constitution on behalf of decent people everywhere. Except, as any sentient person could have predicted (and did!) Warner, McCain and Graham "caved." And the result was one of the lowest points in modern congressional history. (Senators Dodd and Leahy are going to try to get it restored this week.)

Now we find that one of the great statesman Warner's last acts may be to pull the football out from under Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, whose amendment to allow the military a decent interval between deployments is coming up for a vote. Like clockwork, Warner, who had supported the bill is now saying that he may not since the Bush administration has agreed to his propaganda ploy to bring home a handful of troops for a big Christmas pageant, (which I'm sure the president, the vice president and Senator Warner will milk for all its worth.) You could make big money in Vegas by betting on Warner to stab Democrats in the back every time and take some cheap shiny trinket from the White House as a reward. The Webb Amendment is a powerful piece of legislation, backed by the Military Officers Association and many military families who are seeing their loved ones deployed over and over again until their marriages and their finances are at a breaking point. Although it may serve to force the administration to withdraw troops more quickly than they wish to, this is not a political ploy. Even before the surge, experts said that the Iraq war was breaking the military. Now it is far worse. Someone has to step in and do something about this problem and it's obvious it isn't going to be the Republican party.

Until today, it was looking very promising that Webb might get the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster. Vulnerable Republicans and those in states with a heavy military presence heard an earful from their constituents on this subject over the summer recess. But with His Eminence Warner now making little whimpering noises that he will accept the useless little Christmas sugar plum from the White House instead of backing it, he may give cover to enough wavering Republicans to derail this popular, necessary legislation. This is one Iraq vote for which the Democrats should enthusiastically go to the mat. If it requires them putting the cloture vote up every single day, so be it. As Mark Kleiman suggests:

If the Republicans want to filibuster, fine. Don't pull the amendment. Just let them keep filibustering. As long as the amendment is on the floor, there can be no vote on the bill itself. Keep calling cloture votes, one per day. After a few days, start asking how long the Republicans intend to withhold money to fund troops in the field in order to pursue their petty partisan agenda.
If the Republicans in the Senate hold firm, it's their stubbornness that's holding up the bill. If they fold, and the bill gets to the President's desk and he vetoes it, then pass the same damned bill again. And start asking how long the President intends to block funding for troops in the field in order to pursue his petty partisan agenda.
As of October 1, there's no money to fund the war. So the usual move is to pass a continuing resolution, which keeps the money flowing until the appropriation passes. Fine. Pass a continuing resolution with the Webb Amendment attached. If the CR runs into a filibuster or a veto, ask how long …
Really, this isn't very hard. With the voters overwhelmingly interested in getting us the hell out of Iraq, the Democrats can make full use of the power of the purse without worrying about a backlash, especially with Webb as the public face of the campaign.
Footnote Plan B is to pass the amendment in the House and let the Senate conferees accept the House version. Then it goes back to the Senate for a straight up-or-down vote, with the Republican dead-enders in the position of directly voting against money to fund the troops in the field. Not a vote I'd care to defend, especially if I were up for re-election next year.
I had thought they would do this when Webb introduced the Amendment the last time and was surprised they didn't push harder. It's not only clearly the right thing to do, it's good politics and that serendipitous combo doesn't present itself very often when it comes to this hopeless mess in Iraq. I can't conceive of a reason why they wouldn't press this one all the way, John Warner or not.

Jim Webb has made a video explaining the legislation, for those who would like to hear it from the horse's mouth [Ed: you can view it in the upper right corner of this page]. Let's hope the Democrats see the wisdom of standing up for the military against the Republicans who would pound the troops into the ground so that their Dear leader can save face. It's a win-win for everyone but the White House and the Republican Congress, neither of which the Democratic Party should be worrying about.

Editor's note: OpenLeft has a call to action:

Please call and ask these senators to support Jim Webb's pro-troop amendment:

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
DC: 202-224-6665
Anchorage: 907-271-3735

George Voinovich (R-Ohio)
DC: (202) 224-3353
Cleveland: (216) 522-7095

Elizabeth Dole (R-North Carolina)
DC: 202-224-6342
Raleigh: 866-420-6083

John Warner (R-Virginia)
DC: (202) 224-2023
Roanoke: (540) 857-2676

Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)
DC: 202-224-2541
Louisville: 502-82-6304

Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania)
DC: 202-224-4254
Harrisburg: (717) 782-3951

Bonus - Ask Harry Reid to "don't let Republicans obstruct - make them stand and filibuster":
Harry Reid

DC: 202-224-3542
Las Vegas: 702-388-5020

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