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Congress is Ignoring the Will of the People

We Are Moving Backwards on Iraq

by Sen. RUSSELL FEINGOLD

I rise today to express my disappointment both in the final version of the supplemental spending bill that we expect to consider today and in the process that led to this badly flawed bill. Those two concerns are linked, because the flawed procedure that the Senate adopted when we passed a sham supplemental bill last week without debate or amendments helped grease the wheels for a final bill that contains no binding language on redeployment. While our brave troops are stuck in the middle of a civil war in Iraq, we have a bill with political benchmarks that lack meaningful consequences if they are not reached.

Legislation as important as this funding bill should have been openly considered in this body. I am talking about an open and on the record debate, with amendments offered and voted upon. That’s the way the Senate is supposed to operate. I share the desire of my colleagues to pass this important bill as quickly as possible, but that was no excuse for us avoiding our responsibilities as legislators.

Unquestionably it was easier — and faster — for us to send a place-holder bill back to the House. By doing that, the real work could be done behind closed doors where all kinds of horse trading can occur and decisions are unknown until the final deal is sealed. That process makes it a lot easier for most members of Congress to avoid responsibility for the final outcome ­ we didn’t have to cast any votes or make any difficult decisions. In short, we didn’t have to do any actual legislating. And now that we face a badly flawed take-it-or-leave it bill, we can simply shrug and tell our constituents "Hey, we did the best we could." Well, that’s not good enough ­ not when we are talking about the most pressing issue facing this country.

In the five months we’ve been in control of Congress, a unified Democratic caucus, with the help of some Republicans, has made great strides toward changing the course in Iraq. We were able to pass a supplemental bill supported by a majority of the Senate that required the phased redeployment of our troops to begin in 120 days. And last week, a majority of Democrats supported ending the current open-ended mission by March 31, 2008. It’s been almost one year since 13 Senators supported a proposal I offered with Senator Kerry that would have brought our troops out of Iraq by this summer. Now, 29 Senators support an even stronger measure, enforced by Congress’s power of the purse, to safely redeploy our troops.

Unfortunately, after that strong vote, we are moving backward. Instead of forcing the President to safely redeploy our troops, instead of coming up with a strategy providing assistance to a post-redeployment Iraq, and instead of a renewed focus on the global fight against al-Qaeda, we are faced with a spending bill that kicks the can down the road and buys the Administration time.

But why, I ask you, would we buy the Administration more time? Why should we wait any longer? Since the war began in March 2003, we have lost more than 3,420 Americans, with over 71 killed since the beginning of this month. Last month, we lost over one hundred Americans. Last weekend, the media reported that 24 bodies were found lying in the streets of Baghdad; all of whom had been killed execution style. 19 of them were found in parts of the city where U.S. troops have "surged."

The Administration’s policy is clearly untenable. The American people know that, which is why they voted the way they did in November. They want us out of Iraq and they want us out now. They don’t want to give the so-called "surge" time. They don’t want to pass this problem off to another President, and another Congress. And they sure don’t want another American servicemember to die, or lose a limb, while elected representatives put their own political comfort over the wishes of their constituents.

It was bad enough to have the President again disregard the American people by escalating our involvement in Iraq. Now, too, Congress seems to be ignoring the will of the American people. If the American people cannot count on the leaders they elect to listen to them, and to act on their demands, then something is seriously wrong with our political institutions ­ or with the people who currently occupy those institutions. I urge my colleagues to reject the weak supplemental conference report, and to stand strong as we tell the Administration that it is time to end a war that is draining our resources, straining our military, and undermining our national security.

Russell Feingold is a US Senator from Wisconsin.

His remarks from the senate floor on the Iraq War Supplemental Funding bill can be viewed here.