Friday, May 25, 2007

Democrats Chicken Out on Iraq War Funding -- Or Do They?

Democrats Appear to Capitulate to Bush on Withdrawal Timelines, But Funded the War Only Till September -- And Joined Republicans in Demanding Progress By Then Before They'll Keep the Money Flowing Afterward

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With Congress having approved further funding for the Iraq war until at least the end of September, will U.S. troops, such as these pictured above, find themselves having to endure more attacks from Iraqi insurgents between now and then? Only time will tell. (Photo: Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

(Reader's Feedback follows)

SPECIAL REPORT
By Skeeter Sanders


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised last Sunday that an Iraq war funding bill would be sent to President Bush's desk before the Memorial Day recess. True to her word, the vote has been taken and as of 8:00 a.m. EDT this morning (Friday), the bill is now on the president's desk, awaiting his signature.

But to ardent opponents of the Iraq War, it amounted to a "sellout," a "capitulation," a "betrayal of the American people." Pick your poison.

In what amounted to a victory for Bush, the Democratic-controlled Congress grudgingly approved billions of dollars more for the war Thursday night -- without the troop withdrawal timeline that drew only the second veto of Bush's entire 6 1/2-year tenure in the White House.

The votes of 280-142 in the House and 80-14 in the Senate in favor of further war funding appeared to put the lie to Pelosi's declaration on Sunday that the measure would not pass the House without conditions.

A Furious Reaction From Anti-War Activists

Anti-war activists reacted with fury. Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, accused Democrats of "retreating when the public is squarely on their side" in demanding that U.S. troops be brought home form Iraq as soon as possible.

“The Democrats were elected last November to lead the country out of the war, and this bill doesn’t do that,” Pariser fumed. “And the perplexing thing about this moment is that the Democrats have the political wind strongly at their backs, and the country wants them to fight.”

Indeed, public opinion polls taken in recent months have consistently shown that anywhere between 57 and 62 percent of Americans oppose the war and want U.S. troops brought home.

MoveOn.org and other anti-war groups demanded that Democrats continue pressing for withdrawal dates and they bombarded congressional offices with angry phone calls and e-mails in the hours before Thursday night's votes, warning lawmakers who supported the spending bill that they would be targeted for defeat next year -- with some Democrats facing anti-war primary challengers.

Some Members of Congress Who Backed War Funding Already Targeted

Within hours of the vote, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition led by MoveOn.org, announced that it would begin airing a series of new radio ads targeting Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota), two GOP moderates representing heavily Democratic states who are up for re-election. Collins and Coleman both voted for the bill.

Even before Thursday's vote, MoveOn.org already began airing radio ads attacking Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) for not insisting on a timetable for troop withdrawal.

For his part, Levin said after his vote to continue war funding despite his opposition to the war, "I cannot vote ... to stop funding for our troops who are in harm's way. I simply cannot and I will not do that. It is not the proper way that we can bring this war to an end."

But was Thursday's vote really a capitulation to Bush? Not if you look closer at what was actually being voted on.

Measure Funds the War Only Till End of September -- And Imposes Deadlines on Baghdad to Show Progress

The legislation includes nearly $95 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only through September 30, not for the full 2007-08 fiscal year, as Bush originally wanted.

It establishes deadlines for the Iraqi government to meet as it strives to build a democratic country able to defend its own borders, rendering continued U.S. reconstruction aid contingent on progress toward these so-called benchmarks. However, the measure includes an "exit clause" enabling Bush to order that the funds be spent regardless of how the Baghdad government performs.

Bush had originally threatened to veto any war-funding measure that contained such benchmarks. But the president apparently changed his mind after he was warned point-blank in no uncertain terms by a group of 11 moderate GOP House members that they would break from him and oppose any further funding for the war if there was no progress by the end of September.

He was also prompted to change his mind and accept benchmarks after Senate Republicans, led by John Warner of Virginia, put forward their proposal for benchmarks on the Baghdad government.

"It seems to me it's time for them [the Iraqis] to show what is their ability and professionalism to step up," said Warner, adding that if conditions do not improve by mid-July, the president should "reconsider his strategy."

Bush Makes Concessions, Too -- On Minimum Wage, Hurricane Relief and Farm Aid

It wasn't a total loss for the Democrats, either. They won their top domestic legislative priority — the first federal minimum wage increase in more than a decade. The current federal wage floor of $5.15 an hour will go to $7.25 in three installments of 70 cents. Many states have set their minimum wage considerably higher than the federal one, with California leading the pack at $8 an hour.

Five months after taking control of Congress, the Democrats won grudging White House approval for about $17 billion in spending more than what the Bush administration originally sought. Roughly $8 billion of that was for domestic programs ranging from hurricane relief to farm aid to low-income children's health coverage.

The Democrats also prevailed in their insistence on a variety of provisions to aid milk producers, American and Continental Airlines and rural counties hurt by the falloff in revenues from timber harvested on federal lands.

Fight Over Iraq War 'Far From Over' Despite Despite Funding Vote

Despite their apparent defeat on funding for the war, Democrats in both houses vowed to challenge Bush's Iraq policies anew — and force Republicans to choose over and over between the president and public sentiment on the unpopular war.

"This debate will go on," vowed Pelosi.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was even more emphatic. "Senate Democrats will not stop our efforts to change the course of this war until either enough Republicans join with us to reject President Bush's failed policy or we get a new president," he said.

Brave words, Harry. But you're going to have a hard time convincing your party's anti-war base of that now.

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Volume II, Number 26
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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READER'S FEEDBACK

From: Pat Casey, Washington, D.C.

I was a Democrat, but never will I vote for them again. They are spineless cowards. As for Hillary Clinton, a woman will never win [the White House] anyway. I thought she would be different, but I will never vote for her, ever.

What a bunch of wimps! When they go home for their vacation, they should stay home and never come back. We have enough cowards here in Washington. God help the young men and women who will die in Iraq for a totally useless cause.







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Monday, May 21, 2007

Iraq War Funding With No Strings Attached? Fuggeddabowdit!

With Democrats Now Taking a Hard Line as Public Opinion Solidifies Against the War -- and With Republicans Losing Patience With a Lack of Progress in Baghdad -- Bush Must Ultimately Accept Conditions on Future Iraq Funding, Whether He Likes It or Not

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (right) sits with White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten (second from right) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (second from left) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) during a meeting on Capitol Hill Friday prior to a closed-door meeting with President Bush at the White House. Bush rejected offers by the Democratic congressional leaders to continue funding for the Iraq war in exchange for a timeline for a U.S. troop withdrawal. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Agence France-Presse)

By Skeeter Sanders

As talks between congressional leaders and President Bush over future funding for the Iraq war reached an impasse last week, it was -- and is -- becoming increasingly apparent that the Republican-controlled White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress are moving inexorably toward a showdown over the deeply unpopular war.

In a bid to keep a provision that imposes a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops in a second version of an Iraq war-fundng bill, Democratic leaders offered to allow the president to waive the provision. But Bush flatly rejected the idea at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and other lawmakers, according to White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten.

"Whether waivable or not, timelines send exactly the wrong signal to our adversaries, to our allies and, most importantly, to our troops in the field," Bolten said. Bush vetoed an earlier spending bill because it included a withdrawal timeline, denouncing it as "recipe for defeat."

For their part, Democrats had offered to remove billions of dollars in domestic spending that was included in the vetoed bill that the president also objected to. But they insisted that a process for ending the war must be included in any future funding bill. Bush adamantly refused to accept it.

That infuriated Reid, who bluntly reminded Bush that, "The American people want our troops to come home. The American people expect the president to respond to some basic things, like a timeline."

Pelosi: House Won't Pass Iraq War-Funding Bill Without Conditions

Contrary to reports in the mainstream media that Bush was open to holding the Iraqi government accountable for meeting "benchmarks" for progress, it is becoming abundantly clear to this blogger that the president will accept nothing less than an Iraq war-funding bill that has no strings attached -- what Pelosi has ridiculed as "a blank check" to continue the war with no end in sight.

And Pelosi, for the first time, made it abundantly clear on Sunday that such a "blank check" will not pass in the House.

Emboldened by mounting opposition to the war by the public -- and driven by their party's increasingly hard-line anti-war members determined to end American military involvement in Iraq before Bush leaves office in 2009 -- House Democrats in particular are in no mood to pass a so-called "clean" Iraq war-funding bill, congressional sources have told The 'Skeeter Bites Report.

"One thing is for sure: By the time we leave here to honor our war veterans and those who have given their lives for our country on Memorial Day weekend, we will have legislation to fund the troops," Pelosi said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

But she made it clear that the war-funding measure will not pass in the House without conditions.

"The public wants accountability," said the speaker. "That is where the president refuses to listen. We've worked in a bipartisan way with the president on trade, on immigration, on our innovation agenda, on many issues. But when it comes to the war in Iraq, the president has a tin ear. He just cannot hear, except that which he wants to hear on it."

This blogger, citing congressional sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported on April 30 that there were as many as 30 House Democrats who voted for the Iraq war-funding bill that Bush vetoed who would do an about-face and vote against any similar bill that does not contain either a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops or so-called "benchmarks" for progress that the Iraqi government must meet.

Since Bush's veto on May 2, the number of hard-line anti-war Democrats in the House has only grown as public opposition to the war has solidified above the 60 percent mark and Bush's job-approval ratings have sunk below the 30 percent mark, according to the latest round of public opinion polls -- making passage of a "clean" war-funding bill in the House impossible, the sources said.

Under Mounting Pressure From Voters, Capitol Hill Republicans Are Losing Patience With Bush -- And With Baghdad

More ominous for the president, however, is the fact that a growing number of Republicans in both chambers -- increasingly feeling the heat from the voters back home 18 months before the 2008 election -- are losing patience with both the White House and the Iraqi government.

Already, a delegation of 11 moderate GOP House members bluntly warned Bush during a closed-door White House meeting with the president that, in the face of mounting public opposition to the war, he cannot continue to count on their support if there is no progress by September in either the so-called "surge" of U.S. troops cracking down on sectarian violence or in the Iraqi government meeting its obligations.

At the same time, a group of Republican senators, led by John Warner of Virginia, is coalescing around a bill that would threaten a reduction or even a cutoff of billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq unless the Iraqi government makes good on certain "benchmarks" for progress.

The bill also makes clear that American troops will stay in Iraq "only as long as Baghdad lives up to its promises," Warner said. To date, however, Iraqi politicians have failed to reach agreement in Parliament on two pieces of legislation that the U.S. deems critical to success in the war:

** a bill to return former members of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party to positions in government, which the country's Shiite majority adamantly opposes,

** a bill dealing with the division of Iraq's oil wealth, which has run into opposition by Iraqi Kurds.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, appearing on the same program as Pelosi, said Sunday that Republicans "don't want a retreat date in there, a surrender date," and declared that the Warner bill is the only Iraq war-funding measure that "can pass the Senate." But Pelosi dismissed the GOP measure as "too little, too late" and that it imposes only "meager" accountability on the White House.

GOP Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place As '08 Election Approaches

Republicans are rapidly finding themselves caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place on Iraq as the 2008 election approaches.

On the one hand, conventional wisdom holds that support for the war remains overwhelmingly strong among rank-and-file GOP voters -- a fact that makes it all but impossible for Republican presidential candidates to buck the president ahead of next year's GOP primaries.

On the other hand, Republicans make up only a third of the overall electorate. Independent voters -- who will hold the balance of power in the November election and without whom the GOP cannot win -- have turned against the war by a solid two-to-one majority and already have voiced their displeasure with the war by providing the margin for the Democrats' victory in last year's congressional election.

Combined with the overwhelming opposition to the war by Democratic voters (More than 80 percent), Capitol Hill Republicans' continued support for the war -- especially in the Senate, where 20 of the 33 senators up for re-election next year are Republicans and one GOP incumbent is retiring -- is becoming increasingly untenable.

Despite their overall staunch support, disapproval of Bush's handling of the war is increasing even among rank-and-file Republican voters, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released May 2.

Thirty percent of GOP voters surveyed now disapprove of the president's handling of the war. Even more startling: Forty-one percent of likely Republican primary voters want Bush's eventual successor to take a different approach to Iraq; among moderate Republicans, that sentiment soars to more than 60 percent.

Ultimately, the president is going to have to accept some kind of conditions on continued Iraq war funding, whether he likes it or not. There are only two alternatives remaining if he doesn't: Either Congress will cut off funding, or, as a last resort, revoke its 2003 authorization for the war and then invoke the Vietnam-era War Powers Act to force a U.S. troop withdrawal.

Either action would be fully consistent with Congress' exclusive authority under Article I of the Constitution to control the federal purse and to declare war. And either action would effectively render Bush -- already a lame duck -- almost totally isolated politically.

Majority of Public Ignoring White House's Pro-War Rhetoric

No amount of hard-line White House rhetoric that opponents of the war are "hurting the troops" or "taking a path toward defeat" is going to prevent that outcome unless the president changes course. A solid 60 percent majority of the American people have made their position on the war crystal clear: They want the war to end before Bush leaves office -- and they want their representatives in Congress to end it if Bush won't.

Indeed, the administration's hard-line pro-war rhetoric already is backfiring, as evidenced by the warning to Bush issued by a group of 11 moderate House Republicans -- representing heavily Democratic and/or independent districts -- at a closed-door meeting with the president at the White House on May 10.

"Members told the president in the most unvarnished way that they possibly could that things have got to change, [that] we will hang with [him] until September -- but we need an honest assessment in September, and that people's patience is running very, very thin," Representative Ray LaHood (R-Illinois) of Illinois told CNN.

The GOP lawmakers all conveyed the fact that the "American people are war fatigued," LaHood said. "The American people want to know there's a way out. The American people want to know we're having success."

If there is no progress by September, Bush will no longer be able to count on continued support by his party, LaHood said.

Meanwhile, GOP Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota were working with Warner, former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to draft a bill requiring the president to certify that Baghdad was making "satisfactory progress" on political and security reforms -- or else billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq would be cut off.

The Warner measure also would require U.S. troop redeployments if the Iraqi parliament passes a resolution calling for a U.S. withdrawal. However, the bill contains an "exit clause" allowing the president to waive the restriction.

Voters Literally Tuning Out GOP Presidential Candidates Who Won't Break From Bush on Iraq

With Iraq dominating the 2008 presidential campaign, no Republican candidate for the White House who remains steadfast in supporting the war is likely to win. Support for Senator John McCain of Arizona -- who was the darling of independent voters when he challenged Bush for the GOP nomination in 2000 -- already has collapsed in the face of his unyielding support for the war.

With no Republican White House hopeful willing to buck Bush on the war before the primaries, their televised debates so far are drawing record-low viewership, according to the A.C. Nielsen TV audience ratings, while their Democratic rivals -- unanimous in their opposition to the war -- are generating much more voter interest.

More ominously, the Democrats are substantially out-fundraising their Republican rivals for the first time in more than 40 years, with the two front-runners -- Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois -- each raising a record $25 million in the first quarter of this year, compared to the $21 million raised in the same period by the top GOP fundraiser, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

Clinton and Obama declared their support last week for a cutoff of Iraq war funds by the end of next March. Clinton and Obama made their positions public after another candidate, Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, had urged his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination to join him in backing the cutoff date.

Obama said he would vote for the cutoff as well as for a second bill setting standards for the Iraqi government, "not because I believe either is the best answer, but because I want to send a strong statement to the Iraqi government, the president and my Republican colleagues [in the Senate] that it's long past time to change course."

Clinton said she would cast her vote "to send the president a clear message that it is time to change course, redeploy our troops out of Iraq and end this war as soon as possible," said Philippe Reines, a spokesman in her Senate office.

Only one potential GOP presidential candidate, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, has become an outspoken opponent of the war. Hagel, a longtime GOP maverick who's not up for re-election to his Senate seat until 2010, hasn't yet stated his intentions for 2008 -- but would likely have a tough time in the conservative-dominated GOP primaries if he decides to run.

At this rate, if next year's election were held tomorrow, no candidate who supports the war would have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the White House. Congressional Republicans would have no chance of retaking control of Capitol Hill -- and could even sink further into the minority in both houses -- unless and until they break from Bush on the war.

This blogger warned on April 30 that the president's veto of the Iraq war-funding bill that contained a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops would have dire political consequences for the GOP next year.

One thing is certain: Bush's position on the war is not supported by the vast majority of the American people. So it's no longer a question of if the Democratic-controlled Congress will end the war, but when.

With the 2008 election moving inexorably closer, time is definitely not on the president's side.

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Special Note: Due to the Memorial Day holiday next Monday, the next edition of The 'Skeeter Bites Report will be posted instead on Friday, May 25.

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Volume II, Number 25
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.





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