House Dems Pull Funding for Occupation from Budget

Jonathan Weisman writes in the Washington Post:

A Democratic deal to give President Bush some war funding in exchange for additional domestic spending appeared to collapse last night after House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) accused Republicans of bargaining in bad faith.

Instead, Obey said he will push a huge spending bill that would hew to the president's spending limit by stripping it of all lawmakers' pet projects, as well as most of the Bush administration's top priorities. It would also contain no money for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Absent a Republican willingness to sit down and work out a reasonable compromise, I think we ought to end the game and go to the president's numbers," Obey said. "I was willing to listen to the argument that we ought to at least add more for Afghanistan, but when the White House refuses to compromise, when the White House continues to stick it in our eye, I say to hell with it."

House Democratic leaders were scheduled to complete work last night on a $520 billion spending bill that included $11 billion in funding for domestic programs above the president's request, half of what Democrats had initially approved. The bill would have also contained $30 billion for the war in Afghanistan, upon which the Senate would have added billions more for Iraq before final congressional approval.

But a stern veto threat this weekend from White House budget director Jim Nussle put the deal in jeopardy, and Obey said he is prepared for a long standoff with the White House.

"If anybody thinks we can get out of here this week, they're smoking something illegal," he said.

Obey's proposal would ax about 9,500 home-district and home-state projects worth a total of $9.5 billion, according to Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group. Republicans inserted about 40 percent of those projects. Not all of that money could be eliminated, however. The budget of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is parceled out as home-district projects, and Congress has no intention of eliminating the Army Corps.

Obey would not specify where the remaining billions would come from to reach Bush's bottom line, beyond saying the money would be shaved from the president's priorities. One possibility would be funding for abstinence education. Other targets could be nuclear weapons research and development in the Energy Department, NASA programs and high-technology border security efforts that have come under criticism for being wasteful and ineffective, said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.


"The smartest thing for [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi to do is to realize the White House always wins these spending contests," he said, advising her to "cut your losses, get out of town and say Bush is still relevant" to the legislative process.

That still leaves the war-funding issue unresolved. Democratic leadership aides on Capitol Hill concede that at some point, Republicans can add some money for Iraq as a stripped-down spending bill winds through Congress. But plans for a quick end to the showdown appear to be fading.

"It is extraordinary that the president would request an 11 percent increase for the Department of Defense, a 12 percent increase for foreign aid, and $195 billion of emergency funding for the war while asserting that a 4.7 percent increase for domestic programs is fiscally irresponsible," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said.

Progressives have been highly critical of Congressional Dems for repeating that they would not give Bush "a blank check" to continue the war while writing a series of blank checks to continue the war. Arianna Huffington wrote that the Democrats are "Addicted to backing down…"

"Mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support."

That is how, according to the Washington Post, officials present characterized the reaction of lawmakers, including Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman, when they were briefed in 2002 about waterboarding and other severe interrogation techniques being employed by the CIA.

But it could just as well be the slogan of the Democrats for much of the last six-plus years -- especially on Iraq.

It's no wonder Democrats have already decided to capitulate on the war funding bill coming before Congress next week. As recently as three weeks ago, Speaker Pelosi said there would be no more votes on Iraq funding this year (she said the same thing -- both about no votes this year and no votes in '08 without a withdrawal date -- when I interviewed her in October), and last month Sen. Chuck Schumer thundered, "The days of a free lunch are over."

Well, over in the same way that U.S. state-sanctioned torture is over. Which is to say, not so much.

Why can't the Democrats do anything about it? According to Jim Manley, spokesman for Harry Reid: "Republicans, Republicans, Republicans. The real problem here is the president and his Republican backers" who have "staked out an increasingly hard-lined position."

Republicans taking a hard-line position? Who could've have thunk it? The question for Reid and Pelosi is this: why would the Republicans not be taking increasingly hard-line positions when Democratic opposition to the war -- and the other excesses of the Bush administration -- has been so consistently tepid? has called on Senate Democrats -- especially those running for president -- to filibuster …

Democratic congressional leaders could have a tough time convincing some anti-war Democrats to back a $522 billion year-end spending bill that includes money for the military, should that money be used for the war in Iraq. made their job a bit harder Monday by calling on Democratic presidential candidates to filibuster it in the Senate.

"Americans elected a Democratic Congress in 2006 to end the war in Iraq. A blank check for billions in war funding moves us in the wrong direction," said Nita Chaudhary, Campaign Director on Iraq for MoveOn. "Majority Leader Reid and the Democratic leadership should hold the line they've drawn: no war funding without a timeline to end the war."

At Truthout, Maya Shenwar highlights the dishonesty of claims that there's an urgent need to do something quickly:

Despite the Bush administration's warnings renewed Iraq funding is immediately necessary, a November Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, obtained by Truthout, states preexisting funds can easily finance the war through February, and probably beyond.

While the Army cites January as the deadline for replenishing funding for the "global war on terror," the CRS notes the Department of Defense (DOD) could reasonably slow its "non-readiness-related spending," stretching money transferred from the general defense budget to last another month.

The report, published on November 9, also indicates the DOD is not reporting all available war funds. It criticizes the DOD's lack of transparency in accounting for war spending, stating the department failed to include about $45 billion in remaining funds in its estimate of how much money is left to finance the war. The monies, left over from previous years' defense budgets, "raise questions about whether additional funds are urgently needed," according to the CRS report.

These questions come as President Bush chastises Democrats for refusing to back his 2008 war supplemental spending bill, which he calls an "emergency request."

"Although the administration classified both requests [for 2007 and 2008] as emergency funds, much of the funding would not seem to meet the traditional definition of emergency - as an urgent and 'unforeseen, unpredictable, and unanticipated,' need," the CRS report states.

Ohio Rep. and Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich released this statement yesterday:

"It is immoral for Congress to make a deal to keep this war going. It is immoral to keep a war going that is based on lies. And it is immoral to make a deal to claim legislative victories unrelated to the war while at the same time spending money to keep the war going," Kucinich said.

The House is expected to bring up an omnibus spending package this week. The mechanism and timing for inclusion of Iraq war funding in the bill is not yet decided.

One option is for the Senate to amend a House-passed version of the bill to reflect the back room deal on domestic spending. It would reportedly not include Iraq war funding. The Senate would add funding for the Iraq war and send it back to the House.

"In politics, you can make a deal where one party gets its way and the other party gets its way and that's okay when people don't die," Kucinich said.

"This war funding plan shows a distressing lack of concern about the situation of our troops. It shows a disregard for the Democrats' promise to the American people to end the war."

"We do not have to fund the war. We have the money to bring the troops home. It does not require a vote. It requires determination and truth.

"This is yet another example of leadership becoming increasingly unwilling to end this war," Kucinich concluded.

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