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Iraq Debate Moves Blindly Forward

March 22, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Weeks of speculation about Democratic unity will be answered by the end of the day tomorrow. The House of Representatives is embarking on a debate, and eventually a vote, on the war supplemental, which funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while setting a March 2008 date for troop withdrawal to begin and a date of September 2008 for the withdrawal to be completed.

When the House, in mid-February, passed non-binding legislation that simply expressed disapproval of President Bush’s plan to deploy more than 20,000 more troops to Iraq, 17 Republican voted in favor of the measure. Now that the legislation at hand is binding, that number will be much smaller — possibly only three or four. With less defection from Republicans and more from Democrats expected this time around, the results will likely look much different.

It is uncommon for a vote to be brought to the floor when the outcome is not totally certain. But, with opposition mounting from both progressives and conservatives within the Democratic party, that is ceratinly the case with this bill. When asked recently if they have the votes to pass the bill, Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-SD) (pictured at right), who is responsible for unifying the party’s position on legislation, would only say, “we’re getting there.”

Democratic Leaders are working from the center and trying to expand their support base by framing the issue simply:

>Representative Adam Smith of Washington, who leads a coalition of centrist Democrats, was chosen by party leaders to help round up support for the bill, and he is encouraging on-the-fence lawmakers with the message that there are limited options. “Do you support what George Bush is doing in Iraq?” Mr. Smith said he was asking his colleagues. “This is our opportunity to articulate an alternative.”

Conservative and Progressive Democrats are backing away from the bill for exactly opposite reasons:

>Representative Dan Boren is a Democrat, but after visiting Iraq last week he announced a decision that puts him at odds with his party’s leaders: he intends to vote against their plan to set a deadline for troops to leave Iraq.
>“A timeline, in effect, is cutting off the funds,” said Mr. Boren, a conservative second-term lawmaker whose territory covers the eastern swath of Oklahoma, from the bottom of Kansas to the top of Texas. “That is not the solution.”

On the other hand, progressive Democrat Maxine Waters (D-CA) plans to vote against the bill because it provides funds:

>“Not only did the American public speak loudly and clearly last November 7, but poll after poll reinforces the message that Americans want their troops home now. The president’s supplemental request is just what the word “supplemental” implies—additional funds to expand and continue this war. I believe that there is enough money available in the pipeline to fund a planned exit. I will vote against the supplemental unless the additional funds are used to fully fund the safe, secure and timely withdrawal of our troops by December 31.”

Yesterday, David Sirota sent a strategy memo to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, posing the essential question that Progressives will face as they cast their vote on the war supplemental:

>Should these progressives vote yes and accept the congressional world as it is right now – a world filled with a unified Republican caucus that will do anything to continue the war indefinitely and a group of egotistical, pro-war Blue Dog Democrats who will do anything to lavish attention on themselves as supposedly “tough”? Or, should they view the congressional world as they wish it would be and vote no, sending the bill down to defeat

The memo is fairly long, but it is definitely worth reading in its entirety. It lays out, in clear terms, all of the conditions and possibilities surrounding today’s vote. It takes a meta-perspective, showing what is as stake for Progressives, and the Democratic party in general, in the vote.

>Consider progressives voting yes, and the bill passing. It will be conferenced with the Senate’s bill, that may end up having even stronger deadline language in it already. That suggests the conference report will include at least as strongly anti-war binding language as was originally voted on in the House, and that such binding language will be forwarded on to the White House. President Bush will be forced to sign a bill ending the war, or veto a bill and be blamed for refusing to fund the troops. The former is a positive legislative scenario for antiwar progressives, because it cements legally binding legislation to end the war. The latter is a positive political scenario for Democrats, because it further weakens the president for later action.
>Consider progressives voting no, and the bill failing. At that point, President Bush would use the bully pulpit to echo the Fox News talking point that Democrats’ incompetence and division is supposedly leaving troops in the field without the resources they need. The ascension of the Spineless Caucus would likely commence, with people like Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) demanding Democrats move a “clean” supplemental bill – one that is stripped of the binding antiwar language. This move will be made because a panicked Pelosi, under pressure for supposedly “leaving troops in the lurch,” will invariably calculate that there is a much bigger pool of pro-war Republican “yes” votes to attract to a pro-war bill than new antiwar progressive “yes” votes to attract to an even stronger antiwar bill.

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