The House is in the midst of debate over the Iraq War–three days of debate on the floor of the House of Representatives over whether the Congress supports the surge. The outcome is pre-ordained–the House will oppose the surge. The questions are two-fold, first, how many Republicans will join the Democrats? And, second, what comes next, will the House threaten continued funding of the war? The Democratic leadership seems split on this second issue.
The debate comes at a time when public opposition to the war is hardening and when voters are already losing confidence in the Democrats. A USA Today poll released on February 12th found that only 30% approve of the way the Democrats in Congress are handling the war, compared to 27% who approve of the way the Republicans are handling the war. Perhaps the failure of the Democrats to do anything real on ending the war, bringing the troops home safely and reflecting the will of the voters is already weakening their new majority status.
MSNBC reported: “This is like theater,” said one Democratic House member who opposes the war but did not want to be identified by name. “People will get up on the floor and make sententious statements–and then we’ll walk out of here and we’ll still be in a war.”
“What this means is we pass the non-binding resolution, yet Congress is not truly exercising its authority to end this war. The only way Congress can do that is by cutting off funds,” said Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) who is running for president as an anti-war candidate. “Once the president gets the supplemental he’ll have enough money to continue the war to the very end of his term–and enough money to attack Iran.”
The Republicans were stuck in a box when the Democrats refused to allow any amendments to House Concurrent Resolution 63. They were mocked by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post for the inconsistency of their arguments, on the one hand they pointed out that the Resolution being debated was non-binding and therefore a meaningless gesture that would not stop the war. On the other hand they argued that the Resolution would be catastrophic, it would undermine the morale of the troops and result in U.S. enemies seeing that the U.S. is divided.
Other Republicans tried to avoid a debate on the surge. The New York Times reports “two Republicans, John Shadegg of Arizona and Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, instructed their colleagues to make the debate about the fight against terrorism. ‘If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose,’ they wrote in a letter.”
While the Democrats trapped the Republicans, the Democrats are also trapped in their own divisions over how to handle the continued funding of the war. Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck a vague if hopeful note saying “Friday’s vote will signal whether the House has heard the American people: No more blank checks for President Bush on Iraq.”
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA) promised that passage of the resolution would be only a first step toward ending what he called “this nightmare” saying “This simple resolution will establish the first marker. Those who want to draw down the U.S. presence will be on one side of that marker. Those who want to take further steps into the quagmire will be on the other.”
But will there be a real challenge to the funding of the war, will the Democratic majority use the “power of the purse” to end the war? There were strong signals that anti-war voters would be disappointed. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), a senior member of the Rules Committee pledged that the resolution was “not a first step to cut off funding of the troops.” And, the very powerful Majority Leader Steny Hoyer re-affirmed that in a briefing for reporters before the Iraq debate started saying, “We’re going to fund the troops there will be no de-funding of troops in the field, no de-funding which will cause any risk to the troops.”
Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) who chairs the subcommittee on Defense Appropriations is moving toward restricting funds in the supplemental. This approach seems to be gaining support among Democrats. The four conditions being considered, according to the Washington Post, are:
– Soldiers and Marines could be deployed to Iraq only after being certified as fully trained and equipped.
– National Guardsmen and reservists could be subject to no more than two deployments, or roughly 12 months of combat duty.
– The administration could use none of the money for permanent bases in Iraq.
– And additional funding for the National Guard and reserves must be spent to retool operations at home, such as emergency response.
Whether this approach will get through the appropriations process of both the Senate and House, and whether it will be effective in moving toward ending the war remains to be seen. A critical question is, how will the Congress enforce these restrictions on the president?
Others in the anti-war movement are urging those in the Senate opposed to the war to use the power of the filibuster to prevent the supplemental appropriation arguing that there are 51 Democrats in the Senate and only 41 votes are needed to sustain a filibuster. The author, John Walsh says “it is time for the Democrats to start working for the anti-war movement and not the anti-war movement for the Democrats.”
With their popularity low in the polls Congressional Democrats should listen to Walsh. If they fail to follow through and end the war, as the voters want and clearly said in the last election, they may find themselves paying for their lack of action.
KEVIN ZEESE is director of Democracy Rising (www.DemocracyRising.US) and co-founder of VotersForPeace.US.