National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) amendment to specify minimum periods between deployment to combat of active-duty troops and reservists/Motion to invoke cloture (end debate and put to a vote)
senate Roll Call 241 Jul 11, 2007
This was a procedural vote forced by Republicans to require three-fifths of the Senate - the number of Senators required to invoke cloture and thus end debate - to agree to proceed with a measure that would have required that the military provide minimum periods between deployment. Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) attempted to attach the language to legislation authorizing Defense Department spending for fiscal 2008.
Under Senate rules, any Senator can hold the chamber hostage by refusing to yield the floor, an act known as a filibuster, unless three-fifths of his or her colleagues vote to invoke cloture (usually 60 votes). Cloture is the only procedure in the Senate that restricts the amount of time a bill may be considered. Successfully invoking cloture means that the measure under consideration will be brought to a final vote. In recent years, the minority often forces the majority to achieve this 60-vote supermajority to proceed with controversial legislation.
The amendment would have required that active-duty troops spend as much time at home as they do deployed, and reservists would have to spend as much time off-duty as they spend on active duty. The effort was prompted by repeated extensions of active-duty troops' deployments and the prolonged call-up of reservists, which many critics have called a "backdoor draft." The language of the amendment would have allowed the president to waive the requirement after he certified that the troops were needed for an "emergency."
Sensing the Democrats had the votes to pass Hagel and Webb's amendment, the minority Republicans pushed the amendment to a cloture vote. Despite growing uneasiness with the war in Iraq even among Republican ranks, many within the party articulated their belief that the measure would unconstitutionally tie the president's hands during wartime and constituted a "backdoor" strategy, in the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), to quash President Bush's strategy to increase troop levels in Iraq.
"If you want to take care of the troops, let them win," Graham said, adding that allowing Congress to step into military operations and create congressional mandates would set a "dangerous precedent."
"The easy way to do this, the right way to do it, is to stop the war," Graham continued. "The consequences of this amendment are devastating, in terms of a constitutional relationship between the branches. It interjects politics into military decisions in a way that will come back to haunt this country."
Democrats fired back that Republicans were manipulating Senate rules to block a measure that would serve only to reduce the stress levels on over-extended troops. Republicans knew that Democrats had the votes to pass the measure by a simple majority, and they forced a cloture vote to require a 60-vote supermajority to prevent the amendment from coming to a vote.
"Some Republicans have questioned the constitutionality of this amendment. There is no issue here," Webb said. "Article I section 8 says the Congress has the power to make rules for government and regulation of the land and naval forces, and we have done so many times in the past. Some say this is meddling in the president's war-making authority. To the contrary, the Congress has the power and the duty to place proper restraints on executive authority, particularly when it comes to the wellbeing of our troops.
"We are saying: After 4 years of a ground occupation in Iraq, we have a responsibility to get some stability into the operational tempo."
Webb further pointed out that Hagel is the only ground combat veteran among Republicans, and all of the Democratic ground combat veterans cosponsored his amendment. "I believe, if I may say, we collectively understand a truth acquired the hard way and a truth that transcends politics. We are trying in all good faith to do something about it," Web continued.
In the end, the amendment found enough supporters to pass with a simple majority but not enough to reach the higher threshold of cloture. The final vote was 54 to 41. Seven Republicans crossed party lines and voted to invoke cloture, including three - Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Norm Coleman (Minn.) and John Sununu (N.H.) - who are up for reelection in 2008. Thus, a measure that would have required minimum rest periods for active-duty troops and reservists to equal their time spent deployed failed to pass a parliamentary threshold that would have allowed the amendment to proceed to an up-or-down vote, and a bill authorizing Defense Department spending for fiscal 2008 went forward without the requirement.
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