Dems Capitulate on FISA
Harry Reid once again used Senate procedure to tank retroactive immunity and other changes Democrats wanted to the FISA bill. George Bush gets everything he ever hoped for.
The essence of the new agreement is that most of the amendments will be subject to a simple up-or-down vote — if they get 50 votes, then they pass — while several of the amendments will require 60 votes to pass (allowing, in essence, the Republicans to filibuster those amendments without actually having to go to the Senate floor and engage in a real filibuster).
Senate Democratic leadership sources are trying to claim that this is some sort of victory for Senate Democrats, and echoing that sentiment, even some of the most insightful and knowledgeable around — such as McJoan at Daily Kos — are hailing the agreement as evidence that "Dems didn’t cave" and that "they held tough." Unless there is something I’m overlooking, I don’t understand that perspective at all.
It seems rather clear what happened here. There are certain amendments that are not going to get even 50 votes — including the Dodd/Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity out of the bill — and, for that reason, Republicans were more than willing to agree to a 50-vote threshold, since they know those amendments won’t pass even in a simple up-or-down vote.
But then, there are other amendments which might be able to get 50 votes, but cannot get 60 votes — such as Feinstein’s amendment to transfer the telecom cases to the FISA court and her other amendment providing that FISA is the "exclusive means" for eavesdropping — and, thus, those are the amendments for which the GOP insisted upon a 60-vote requirement.
The whole agreement seems designed to ensure that the GOP gets everything they want — that they are able to defeat all of the pending amendments which Dick Cheney dislikes, and to do so without having to engage in a real filibuster. In what conceivable way is this an instance of "Dems not caving" or "holding tough?"
Dodd agreed to Unanimous Consent regarding the time limits to debate various amendments. Dodd will get up and talk about retroactive immunity, but this agreement limits what he can do to stop things from going forward. We’re trying to get clarification, but the short version seems to be that at the end of the day there will be a cloture vote unless there are 40 senators willing to stand with him — and there aren’t.
We’ll keep you posted on how it goes down, but it looks like the House is now driving this.
How this is anything other than utter capitulation to Mr. 25% JAR on Harry Reid’s part is beyond me.