Friday, May 25, 2007

War bill passed Congress

Congress yesterday passed its deadline-free war bill, and Bush says he'll sign it.

But in a sign of things to come, the vote in the house was 280-142, with only two Republicans voting against -- meaning well more than half the Democratic caucus opposed it. The vote in the Senate was more lopsided, 80-14.

In September, if the surge isn't going well and the Iraqi government is missing benchmarks, look for a sizable number of Republicans to join the bloc opposing additional funding.

But even if they don't, don't expect Bush to get his way the second time around like he did here. If the evidence shows his plan isn't working, Congress will refuse to fund more. They'll do this in one of two ways:

1. Passing a bill with firm deadlines and overriding a Bush veto. They'll do this if they think they have the votes to do so, and will probably try this route first.

2. Simply refusing to take up a bill on additional funding. Bush can't veto a bill that isn't passed, and can't spend money that isn't authorized. In conjunction with such a refusal, Congress could pass a separate bill expressly funding a winddown of the war. This is the ultimate power Democrats have by virtue of their control of Congress, using the gridlocked nature of split government to their advantage.

Of course, a likely scenario is that in September the verdict on Iraq will be muddy, with some signs of progress but nothing decisive and perhaps not commensurate to the effort expended. At which point the debate will rage around whether there has been enough progress of the sustainable kind, that indicates a path upward to stability. A question to which many in Congress and the White House will have preconceived answers. So expect even more fireworks as they vie to frame the issue advantageously to their position.

For now, though, Congress did the right thing.

BTW, Hillary Clinton -- in a transparent bid to court the antiwar vote -- voted against the measure. I have no problem with people opposing the bill on principle, as Barack Obama and John Edwards do, for example. But Clinton has argued against an immediate withdrawal, so the centrist, responsible thing to do would have been to support this bill and renew the argument in September. Instead, she was essentially voting to defund the troops in order to set up a political confrontation with Bush. That's just not cool.

There's also this unflattering admission by the Dems:

After weeks of insisting that the Pentagon could fund the war into July, Democrats abruptly changed their tune yesterday. Murtha said Congress had no choice but to act this week, because the war would run out of funds on Monday. The Defense Department could shift funds around, he said, but such accounting tricks would be a "disaster," Murtha said.

I understand why they made that claim -- to prevent Bush from using the pressing deadline as a negotiating tool while they squabbled over funding, and to strengthen their own hand by making it seem as if they were willing to take more time than Bush to pass a funding measure. But while it might make sense tactically, it's simply dishonest. Politics ain't beanball, but it shouldn't include outright lying.

Of course, the president did do some scaremongering of his own (see bottom of linked post) when he claimed that the funding bill had to be passed in April or the troops would run out of money. But that didn't justify the Democrats making up a lie of their own.

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