As I noted yesterday, the Democratic leadership in Congress finally acknowledged the reality of their position yesterday and agreed to send a supplemental funding bill for the Iraq war without timelines for withdrawal. In doing so, they’re claiming victory from a clause that they earlier derided as worthless, and their anti-war wing now threatens to part company with the present leadership:
Congressional Democratic leaders Tuesday dropped their insistence that the Iraq war-spending bill include a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal, clearing the way to end a lengthy standoff with President Bush.
The measure will include benchmarks that the Baghdad government must meet to continue to receive U.S. reconstruction aid, although the president will be allowed to waive those requirements. …
The plan to link reconstruction aid to benchmarks, which was proposed by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was initially derided by Democrats, who said it was too weak to have any effect on the war.
But Tuesday, Democratic leaders sought to portray it as progress in their efforts to challenge Bush on the war. And they vowed to continue their efforts to try to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. This bill would fund the war through Sept. 30.
Democrats have included funding for Iraq war operations in the regular FY 2008 budget, however. That makes the issue less crisis-prone, and it also deflects some of the political backlash the Democrats have received from all sides on this question. It took more than 100 days for the Democratic-led Congress to finally produce a funding bill, a delay which held up the highly-touted AMRAP program that could have already saved some lives from IED attacks.
That loss of leverage has not gone unnoticed by the anti-war caucus, and neither has the Democratic surrender to George Bush on the funding bill. Those Senators and Representatives insist that the bill will require Republican votes for passage as they plan to oppose the supplemental:
Liberal Democrats who reluctantly have backed House leaders on the Iraq spending bill may defect due to the leadership’s decision to eliminate any timeline for withdrawal from the legislation. …
“The anti-war Democrats have reached their tipping point,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a leader of the Out of Iraq caucus. “It’s going to take Republican votes to pass it.” …
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) said he expects enough Democrats to switch that leadership vote-counters will lose the margin of victory they have enjoyed so far.
“I’m on the edge,” he said. “I’m not liking this. A lot of people have bought into the notion that you have to fund the troops. Funding the troops means more troops are going to die.”
I’m not sure where this threat is intended to go. Funding for the war always relied on Republican votes. As long as enforced withdrawal dates do not get included, Republicans will vote for the result, unless pork and amendments make it impossible to do so. That’s as true as whether Bush would sign a bill. There will be enough Democrats to cross the aisle to assure passage.
In fact, the Democrats already recognize this rather empty threat, and they plan to attach the pork in a rather sneaky manner that avoids a floor vote. They will propose a clean supplemental without any extraneous spending or amendments, and expect to get all of the Republicans and a good chunk of Democrats to approve it. Afterwards, the Democrats will use procedural machinations to attach the minimum wage increase, hurricane relief, and agricultural pork. The need for the latter seems diminished, considering that it won’t pay for the votes it originally intended, but apparently survived the negotiations.
That will pass the Senate tomorrow, and the House will probably address it later that evening or early on Friday. We can finally expect that Congress did something significant this session by Memorial Day, a shameful start to the new era of Democratic leadership.