Sunday, February 18, 2007
Framing the Vote in Congress
A more recent example of framing an issue exists in the U.S. Senate regarding the debate - or the question of having a debate - about disapproving of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. The minority Republicans, still showing their loyalty to a President of their party, insist on presenting their own resolution before voting on the Democrats' resolution of disapproval. The Republican resolution would require a vote on cutting off or reducing funding for the Iraq war and would be framed as a vote to "support" or "cut off support" for the troops. Aware of the psychological power of framing the issue as "support the troops" instead of "criticize the President," the Democrats have refused to accept the Republicans' alternative motion.
By framing the issue in this way, the Republicans have managed to delay any vote in the Senate on a motion to criticize the way the President has handled or mis-handled the war. They have also again exposed the cowardice and ineptness of the Democratic leadership at being placed in such a position. The federal constitution creates the President, the courts, and the Congress as three separate institutions. Unlike national leaders in many democratic countries, our President does not need the approval of Congress in conducting foreign policy or military operations. Because of the stability and rigidity of our institutions, the President also does not need the approval of the American People. If a President of any Latin American country tried to carry on a war that an overwhelming majority of the public opposed, he would soon be drummed or chased out of office.
I was taught in high school that the power of Congress is the power to appropriate or deny money to pay for a President's military forays. It is perfectly proper for Congress to debate whether to fund a military operation and to deny funding for an operation which it disapproves. Approving or denying funding is the only means available to Congress, except for impeachment, to rein in a President who is both overconfident and incompetent. The Republicans have, for the time being, managed to stifle debate and voting on a simple resolution of disapproval by framing the issue as "supporting the troops" rather than "reining in a President's overconfident plan." It's a clever ploy. It may take a long time for the public to see through it.