Debating The Debate Debate

by The New Republic Staff | February 7, 2007

The New York Times editorial page doesn't like Harry Reid's approach to the Iraq surge fight, chiding him for dodging a vote on the GOP-backed Gregg resolution, which basically vows not to cut off funds for the war:
We oppose that resolution, which is essentially a promise never to cut off funds for this or any future military operation Mr. Bush might undertake in Iraq. But the right way for the Senate to debate Iraq is to debate Iraq, not to bar proposals from the floor because they might be passed. The majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, needs to call a timeout and regroup. By changing the issue from Iraq to partisan parliamentary tactics, his leadership team threatens to muddy the message of any anti-escalation resolution the Senate may eventually pass.
Beyond that, however, the NYT is annoyed that the Senate won't have a full "debate" about the surge:
America went to war without nearly enough public discussion, and it needs more Senate debate about Iraq this time around, not less. The voters who overturned Republican majorities in both houses last November expect, among other things, to see energized Congressional scrutiny of the entire war - not just of the plan for an additional 21,500 troops but also of the future of the 130,000 plus who are already there.
I suppose I'm basically sympathetic to this. And yet, let me suggest that Senate debate is wildly overrated. The quality of Senate floor speeches tends to be dismal; most senators, when they stand in the well and switch into Great Orator mode, are fairly unlistenable. (Ted Kennedy, for instance--though he has his moments--often has the oratorical lift of a jackhammer.) Meanwhile for weeks we've been conducting a nonstop surge debate in the media--via press conferences, news articles, and the political talk shows--settings in which skeptical reporters can grill senators about their hedges and evasions, rather than let them just bloviate away on their own terms. Sure, some senators may literally run away from reporters. But not everyone has to give a floor speech, either. Forcing senators to actually choose between 'Aye' and 'No' on any given surge resolution is probably a worthwhile exercise. Beyond that, however, I don't think a predictable and repetitive floor debate will much help to solve our massive problems in Iraq. Update: As always, Tapped's Sam Rosenfeld has good thoughts to add about the annoying role of the filibuster. --Michael Crowley

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