Column: As Israel Depends on the Kindness of a Strange Congress…

‘Israel is being held hostage’

— Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida

The fate of three vulnerable democracies – if not the world – depends on the kindness of America, to paraphrase an oft-quoted line from “A Streetcar Named Desire.

Yet an incredibly strange minority of Americans is so unkind that they would withhold or stall military aid that Israel needs to prevent a savage force from slaughtering another 1,200 of its citizens, as happened last Oct. 7. The military aid would help the people of Ukraine stave off Russia President Vladimir Putin’s bloody attacks and prepare Taiwan for China’s threatened conquest of the island nation.

Israel would easily receive $14.1 billion if not for a clash pitting Ukraine funding against borderline security. Both Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah oppose Ukraine aid without solving problems at the border. “We cannot send billions of dollars to Ukraine as the border bleeds,” said Lee, also a Republican.

Republicans forged an obstacle course to block legislation of the motherhood and apple-pie variety for survival of Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. The bad guys form a rogues’ gallery of autocrats who not only seek to torment the people of these countries but also to spread their evil beyond the immediate neighborhood. Putin could move onto Poland and Germany if he can overtake Ukraine; Hamas and other terror groups seek to destroy Israel; and China likely wants to control far more Asian territory beyond Taiwan.

What member of Congress in their right mind could deny help to reliable allies whose values coincide with American interests?

Congress is beset with structural and procedural defects that were taken advantage of by Republicans, all to sabotage the legislation as it coursed through the Senate. Miraculously, the outcome was a major relief. On Tuesday morning, the Senate voted 70-29 to pass a $95 billion bill to aid our allies, but Republicans sent its proponents through a series of hoops first. The process is far from over. Now the House of Representatives must consider it, and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has already labeled the bill “dead on arrival.”

 The current crisis can be traced to a constitution that hands over control of all three branches of the federal government to a minority of the electorate.On Wednesday last week, the Senate swiftly eliminated a bill that paired military aid with border security needs. Reflecting their hypocrisy, Republicans demanded a bill to resolve discrepancies at the border along with foreign funding, and then GOP senators opposed a cloture vote combining border issues with Ukraine. That reduced full funding to $95 billion for military aid and other expenses.

We know what is driving this. To paraphrase Spencer Tracy addressing Fredric March in Inherit the Wind, “Putin speaks to Trump and Trump tells Congress!!!” As God does with March’s character in this courtroom drama, Putin orders our former president, Donald Trump, to order Congressional Republicans to obstruct $60 billion in military aid from reaching Ukraine.

The Senate needed 60 votes under its filibuster and cloture rules to release the bill for debate and a majority vote, so a minority of the Senate needs 41 of 100 votes to stop it. The filibuster was formally created by the Senate in 1917 and was revised nearly 50 years later to require 60 votes to end a filibuster. The concept of a filibuster is not mentioned in the constitution.

If the dysfunctional Congress is ever to get anything done, the constitution must be overhauled. I cannot see how that will ever happen, but rebuilding the structure and adjusting procedures of the Senate would likely benefit society. Progress on two of our gravest issues – gun safety and health care – were blocked by the filibuster. The filibuster can be weakened or eliminated by the vote of a plain majority, but altering the constitution is another matter entirely.

Once legislation is released for a majority vote, a bill will hinge on whether a state with less than 600,000 people, like Wyoming, can prevail over a state with 39 million people, like California.

Each state sends two senators to Washington, which means that each state has no more clout than the next, no matter how populous. Senate Democrats, controlling a narrow majority, represent two-thirds of our population of 330 million.

Blame William Paterson. When his state, New Jersey, was among the least populous of the original 13 states, he warned the constitutional convention in Philadelphia that creation of a proportionate legislature would “swallow…up” the smaller states. Today, New Jersey is the 11th most populous state and one of the federal treasury’s most outsized cash cows. For that matter, just try to find space on a New Jersey beach next summer.

Paterson, who went on to become governor and a U.S. Supreme Court justice, would no doubt reconsider if he could envision then what New Jersey looks like today. The larger states send extra billions into the treasury that benefit most of the smaller states. A more proportionate Senate would allow more money for the larger states beset by a range of urban ills. In fact, those states received more funding once the Affordable Care Act went into effect.

A bipartisan majority for the foreign aid bill made a change in composition unnecessary for approval this time. Some Republicans behaved like statesmen during the debates, though that has rarely been the case with past legislation.

“The eyes of the world are on the U.S. Senate,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed.

“How we vote (will decide) whether people live or die,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine noted early in the debate. “This security situation is the most dangerous in 50 years.”

Collins, Mitchell and a handful of other GOP senators understand why the world is watching.

Observing portions of the proceedings affirmed for me why the filibuster is a waste of time. I watched the senators take three cloture votes. A version of the bill combining border security with foreign aid failed the first cloture vote. Cloture votes for two subsequent versions passed after border security was dropped from the bill.

Once the other votes succeeded, some Senate Republicans revived border security. Among them, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah rambled on forever in a vain attempt to tie Ukraine to immigration. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas blamed President Biden for all of America’s ills, or so it seemed. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of three independents, accused America of complicity in the reported 27,000 deaths of Palestinians for supplying arms to Israel.

The cloture votes each took a half-hour. That is 90 minutes out of our lives that none of us can take back. Especially those senators who take their jobs seriously. At the very least, the filibuster must go – along with some of the senators.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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