The Collective
Tuesday, February 6, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

(This is a simplification of the post below).

There are at least three ways in which the word “debate” is being used in the current discussion about the competing Senate resolutions.

1) Debate over whether to accept the motion to proceed, which requires a cloture vote. In essence, this is a debate about whether to have a debate. (Put another way, whether the Senate should move on to #2).

2) Debate over a resolution that would lead to a vote on the resolution

3) General discussion about these topics, both in the public and within the Senate.

In terms of recent coverage, specifically as it pertains to S.470, the reports that the Republicans are blocking debate (as defined in #2 above) is correct–and apoplexy on this point is pointless and unproductive.

It is correct, however, that in terms of definitions #1 and #3 that debate continues unabated.

Still, in terms of something passing the Senate, #2 is the only sense of “debate” that matters.

Here’s a handy decoder:

Democrats and much of the press mean #2 when they say “debate” in the context of S.470.

Republicans and many in the rightish Blogosphere mean either #1 or #3 when they use the word “debate” in this context, referring to S.407, the Gregg language and any number of other possibilities.

Many in the press and in the Blogosphere writ large (i.e., Left, Right and wherever), however, are conflating all three.

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Filed under: US Politics | |


  • el
  • pt
    1. In other words, to summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

      Comment by Jan — Tuesday, February 6, 2024 @ 10:10 pm

    2. Steven,

      I think that is correct, except, the press with headlines like the AP’s:

      Republicans Block Senate Debate on Iraq

      is not trying to give the impression that we are only talking about the temporary, short term issue of whether the debate moves forward to the stage where a vote can take place. They have chosen the most misleading way possible while still being accurate (if you understand such procedural matters enough to catch it.) If one does not know that (and remember, you felt the need to check and confirm) one would never come to that conclusion from pieces such as the AP’s that I first discussed. Nor by the way was, or am I, outraged. I am disappointed, though that is a pretty constant state on such matters.

      That is why the loaded term “blocked” (which is not used in a technical sense, it is used as a description which could be applied in numerous ways to both Democrats and Republicans) was attached to the Republicans, though in similar circumstances it has been applied the other way on cloture votes (and I am not discussing judicial nominations.)

      Nor is it true that Democrats are using it solely in the sense of #2, or at least one would never know it from listening to them. Listening to Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid tonight they are not making some fine procedural point or claiming that a vote is being denied. They are accusing Republicans of using the vote to end debate in sense #3 (and I have read numerous Democratic blogs claiming Republicans do not want to debate the war (thus sense #3.) They are also claiming it is an attempt to deny the resolution a vote as well, though that is not really true except on the temporary procedural sense (#1.) So far the Republicans (though we may find out later they are lying) claim they are willing to let it go to a debate in the sense of #2 as long as the Gregg amendment is allowed to move forward as well. If they are lying let us find out.

      Then they may attempt to make it go to 60 votes for passage, which would be blocking the resolution (and would be a legitimate use of the term blocked.)

      In this case the media could just as easily have claimed the Democrats blocked Republican efforts to broaden the debate. That would have been more truthful if we take into account what most peoples understanding of the issues are.

      More appropriate would have been headlines and stories which stated that Democrats and Republicans haven’t been able to get enough votes to get their resolutions up for a vote (since Democrats were blocking Republican attempts to put the Gregg resolution up) and can’t agree on whether one or both should be debated and voted on. Something along those lines was possible, and no amount of showing how technically the stories can be reconciled with the truth(though many really can’t) changes that they are spinning it (or really accepting spin) in the way most beneficial to the Democrats in this instance.

      Comment by Lance — Tuesday, February 6, 2024 @ 11:34 pm

    3. [...] Steven has helpfully given us a breakdown of the ways debate is being used in this situation: 1) Debate over whether to accept the motion to proceed, which requires a cloture vote. In essence, this is a debate about whether to have a debate. (Put another way, whether the Senate should move on to #2).2) Debate over a resolution that would lead to a vote on the resolution 3) General discussion about these topics, both in the public and within the Senate. [...]

      Pingback by A Second Hand Conjecture » The Blue Putz Responds-Let Us Restate Things — Wednesday, February 7, 2024 @ 1:16 am

    4. I agree that the press has oversimplified a specific event. I further agree that many of the reporters seem unaware of how the Senate works.

      Part of this, of course, is that when the minority uses a procedure to stop what the majority wants to do, the minority is cited as “blocking” the majority–which is essentially correct.

      My position is not that the media reports are perfect, but that the reaction to them has been over the top and that neither the reports nor those reacting to the reports have, on balance, taken into consideration exactly how the Senate works.

      At any rate: thanks for the comments and the links.

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, February 7, 2024 @ 6:21 am

    5. The New York Times Gets It Right

      Trackback by A Second Hand Conjecture — Wednesday, February 7, 2024 @ 10:47 am

    6. [...] Emphasis mine, and it was the basic points I made in two posts yesterday: It All Depends on the What the Word “Debate” Means, which deals with the semantics of the situation as well as my more lengthy discussion of Senate procedures: Uproar over Coverage of Cloture is Misplaced [...]

      Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Back to the “Debate” Debate (The Politics of the Senate Resolutions) — Wednesday, February 7, 2024 @ 11:19 am

    7. You are mistaken.

      There is no ambiguity here. In every sense, Democrats want to halt debate.

      The only power the Republicans have is to prevent “closure”, which *halts* debate. In every sense, Republicans want to hold open the debate.

      The Democrats quest to halt debate — not only on Republican alternatives, but even on their *own* resolution. Republicans aren’t standing in the way of further debate on *any* resolution. Their only insistence is for the Democrats stop impeding debate (and votes) on Republicans preferred alternatives.

      As it stands, Democrats in the Senate can hold unlimited debate on Iraq and any resolution. Democrats also can win any resolution that comes to a vote if they keep their caucus together. Republicans haven’t closed the door to any particular resolution, so long as their preferred amendments have an equal chance for an up or down vote.

      Comment by anil petra — Wednesday, February 7, 2024 @ 1:02 pm

    8. The only meaningful debate is a debate which leads to a vote. One needs cloture on the motion to proceed to move to such a debate. As such, I fear you are misunderstanding what is going on here.

      And BTW, my goal isn’t the defend the Democrats or anyone else, it is to ask for a discussion of this matter that actually takes into account how the Senate works.

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, February 7, 2024 @ 1:21 pm

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