Friday, March 23, 2007

House passes Iraq timetable

By a razor-thin margin -- 218-212 -- the House of Representatives passed a war funding bill that includes a hard deadline to end combat operations in Iraq: September 2008.

I've already opined that the timetable is reasonable, giving Bush a year and a half to show progress. And even if the deadlines were enforced, it's not like we would abandon Iraq as of then. We would simply shift from doing front-line work ourselves to providing aid and training for the Iraqi military. And if Bush does manage to show progress, I'm sure he would find that the deadline, to quote Captain Barbossa, "is more of what you might call guidelines than actual rules." What Congress passeth, Congress can changeth.

Bush, however, exploded.

Just over an hour later, an angry Bush accused Democrats of staging nothing more than political theater and said that if the spending bill is not approved and signed into law by April 15, troops and their families "will face significant disruptions."...

"A narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law and brings us no closer to getting the troops the resources they need to do their job.

"These Democrats believe that the longer they can delay funding for our troops, the more likely they are to force me to accept restrictions on our commanders, an artificial timetable for withdrawal and their pet spending projects. This is not going to happen."

Bush's rhetoric is self-serving, of course: Whatever you think of the wisdom of its chosen course, this is Congress asserting its responsibility, not abdicating it. Abdication is what the Republican-led Congress engaged in for three years.

And if funding the war is so important, he can simply sign the bill. The money is there, and the restrictions don't kick in for quite a while. Apparently the funding isn't critical enough to keep him from vetoing it.

As political theater, this cannot be beat. As a practical matter, though, the deadline is probably a goner. The first hurdle is the Senate, where it will have trouble passing. If the Senate passes a bill lacking the timetable, that will have to be resolved in conference committee. If the deadline survives that (and the conference version passes the Senate), it faces a likely Bush veto, which will almost certainly be sustained.

At that point -- or, more likely, much earlier -- Bush and Congress will have to sit down and hammer out what sort of funding bill both sides will accept. The politics are uncertain, because both sides can accuse the other of holding our troops hostage to politics. My gut says Bush will win that battle of perception by claiming the timetable provision does not belong in the funding bill. But Congress can argue that the timetable is directly relevant to the funding.

Further, they could make the point that the timetable is a limitation on Bush, so how much sense does it make to pass it as a standalone measure that Bush will simply veto? Attaching it to the funding bill is the only way Congress can exert meaningful pressure on the president.

Problem is, that would mean Congress is using a tactical argument to try to counter a moral and strategic one. And critics could plausibly point out that if Congress cannot muster enough votes to force the timetable on Bush straight up, perhaps it is still too early to be doing such forcing.

I don't buy that particular logic but I'm still somewhat in the latter camp, mostly because I believe we need to give the "surge" time to show results before we start imposing withdrawal deadlines. More on that in my next post.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

King George can sign the bill and give a signing statement that he will read the law as he sees fit and take the money and ignore the deadline.

3/23/2007 5:10 PM  

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