Laid-off American workers will be getting temporary extended benefits as the nation sinks into recession, thanks to Congressional Democrats, who cleverly tacked a funding provision onto a bill giving the president all the money he asked for (and then some) to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on out through next June. Veterans of the Iraq War will also be getting tuition benefits equal to the full cost of in-state public college tuition plus $1000 a year for books and supplies.
When workers pick up those unemployment checks from their state Department of Labor offices, though, they should see them as dripping blood. Those checks have been bought with the blood of American men and women in uniform who have been sent over and over into harm’s way in those two countries in misbegotten and criminal adventures that have nothing to do with defending America and everything to do with boosting the profits of oil companies and defense contractors, and with getting Bush re-elected and Republicans elected.
Iraq Vets, too, should not overlook the blood on their VA education benefits checks, because their tuition will be paid by the blood of active-duty comrades still left stranded in battle zones overseas.
It didn’t have to be like this.
For generations, Congress has voted supplemental funding for unemployment benefits to be extended during economic downturns—not always willingly, but always eventually, following enough pressure from workers and the labor movement.
For generations, too, Congress has voted for education benefits for veterans.
This being an election year, passage of a freestanding supplemental benefits bill for unemployment insurance and a restoration of decent education benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans would have been a sure thing. Even Republicans facing the prospect of re-election campaigns would have signed on to both measures by Labor Day and the votes would have been their to override any Bush veto. Neither measure—both important in themselves and badly needed—had to be tied to a war-funding bill.
But Democrats in the House and Senate leadership weren’t really thinking about the plight of the unemployed or the needs of returning veterans in this case. They were, rather, thinking of a way of putting some “progressive” window-dressing on a war-funding bill that they wanted to pass without having to take responsibility for it. Their objective was to push the whole issue of funding the wars out past Election Day, in hopes of not having to discuss it in the coming campaign.
Funding Bush’s and Cheney’s war in Iraq especially has, after all, become a more and more unpopular and difficult affair for Democrats. In this last go-round, fully 141 House Democrats voted against further funding of the war—nearly the same number as voted for it (149). At first, back in mid-May, the measure didn’t even pass, because Republicans cleverly joined with the anti-war Democrats in blocking the measure, forcing Democratic leaders to scramble to round up the votes to pass a bill the second time around.
Americans clearly don’t want the war to continue, and Democrats don’t want to have to face the voters, as every member of the House and a third of the Senate have to do this November, being labeled as war backers. That’s why they come up with these pathetic excuses like, “I’m opposed to the war but we have to support the troops.”
Any sentient being in the country by now knows that most of the long-suffering and abused troops, as polls have shown, think that the best way to support them is to bring them home immediately. A Zogby poll of active-duty troops in Iraq taken in 2006 found that 72% wanted the US out within a year, while one in four wanted all US troops out immediately. Only one in five supported staying “as long as necessary.” (With many of those troops on yet another rotation, in some cases their fifth, those numbers are probably even more in favor of immediate withdrawal today.) Military experts have also written about how all the troops in Iraq could be pulled out safely in as little as two weeks’ time. All the Pentagon would need to do is start running a constant convoy of trucks south to Kuwait, carrying troops and weapons systems. They could leave the porta-potties, the McDonalds stands, the bowling alleys, the gyms and the barracks to the Iraqis and then blow up whatever they didn’t want falling into the wrong hands. It would be easy and fast. There’s no need for Obama’s proposed 16-month staged withdrawal, which would just mean more unnecessary deaths and killings.
Democrats in Congress know all this, but congenitally spineless and devoid of principle, they’re afraid if they don’t fund the war they could be accused by Republicans of being “soft” on defense—as though the Iraq War had anything at all to do with protecting America.
And so they have come up with this shameless ruse of attaching a $95-billion domestic spending package, including unemployment funding measure and a veterans’ education benefits measure, to a $162-billion atrocity—a measure that assures more death and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more dead and maimed American military personnel. They’re pretending that they “pulled one over” on Bush by forcing him to sign an unemployment extension bill and a veterans’ bill, when they know Republicans would have forced him to sign those anyway, later in the summer.
The real joke is on the American people, and on those very workers and veterans who will be receiving the unemployment checks and tuition reimbursements funded as a result of this duplicitous tactic.
The $162 billion that Congress has voted for the continuation of the two pointless and disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with the money already allocated for the so-called “War on Terror,” is all borrowed, and is a major contributor to the collapse of the dollar and to the resulting soaring of the price of oil, electricity and imported goods. It is thus a major contributor to the credit crisis and the collapse in the housing market that has pushed the nation into what may be the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.
Furthermore, the blood-money unemployment and tuition checks bought through his gutless subterfuge by House and Senate Democrats will be pissed away in no time on higher gas prices spent by workers on desperate job searches, or on long commutes to distant jobs or commutes if they are lucky enough to find them. It will be pissed away too for veteran/students on their commutes to college, and on higher heating bills for their families at home.
Equally important, the $160 billion wasted in Iraq, along with the half trillion dollars being wasted every year on military spending for a military colossus that encircles the globe for no good purpose other than intimidation of other nations, assures that those Democrats who control Congress can do nothing of consequence to shore up retirement funds, to develop a national health program, to improve our dismal school system, to repair our crumbling infrastructure, or to develop alternative, non-polluting energy sources that could combat global warming.
The Democratic Congress has shown itself to be worse than useless. It is part of the problem. That includes Sen. Barack Obama, who like Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain, signed onto this contemptible funding bill.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net