When the House and the Senate pass similar but not identical bills, they create a conference committee to work out the differences. When they both passed amendments to the "emergency supplemental" spending bill stipulating that none of the money could be used to build permanent bases in Iraq, the conference committee, behind closed doors this week, resolved that non-difference by deleting it.
This would appear to be a blatant violation of the rules of Congress and an unconstitutional voiding of the will of the people as expressed by their Representatives and Senators. But it can't appear that way to a people that knows nothing about it. And it does not appear that way at all to the journalists who inform the public of its government's doings. Even the minority members of the conference committee and the leaders of the minority party in Congress seem entirely comfortable with this course of events, although Congresswoman Barbara Lee has denounced the Republicans for it.
The House was the first to pass the "no permanent bases" amendment, back in March. Only one media outlet in the nation reported on the matter, the San Francisco Chronicle, which wrote:
"Lee's amendment, which would bar the use of any funds in the new spending bill to establish permanent bases, passed on a voice vote, with no one speaking in opposition. President Bush and some top administration officials have said the U.S. military has no interest in permanent bases, the prospect of which is among the causes of anti-American unrest in Iraq. Leaders of the Republican majority also may have chosen to avoid a debate and recorded vote on Lee's proposal because they didn't want to go on record endorsing a permanent military presence in Iraq when polls show Americans oppose the war. Opponents also may try to strike the amendment when leaders of the House and Senate reconcile their bill for final passage. 'In adopting this amendment, we can take the target off our troops' backs by sending a strong and immediate signal to the Iraqi people, the insurgents and the international community that the United States has no designs on Iraq,' Lee said on the House floor."
In response to this, I wrote at the time:
"That's quite a story: an issue so touchy that the majority party goes against its own wishes in order to avoid going on record, and a reporter, with his editor's approval, anticipates that they will likely reverse that position behind closed doors. Won't that be an even bigger story! Well, no. Not if no one has heard about this one. And not if no one has even heard that bases are being built or that Iraqis are killing Americans because of it."
Then the Senate did the same thing. They passed "no permanent bases" on a voice vote with no opposition. And the media was silent. Everyone knew what was coming, but nobody felt the public should hear about it.
Now the newspapers are full of stories about things the conference committee did yesterday. None of the stories that I've seen mention the removal of the language about permanent bases. Instead, most of the articles focus on the idea that the conference committee saw its job as reducing spending. It stripped out money for American farmers and other useful spending.
But what would those farmers think if they knew the committee had spent their money on multi-billion-dollar permanent military bases in somebody else's country, bases never explicitly authorized by Congress, bases built as part of an ongoing occupation never authorized by Congress? Would the farmers be dangerously overcome with joy to learn that? Is that the reason they must not be told?
If nobody knows and nobody cares, I guess it can't be treason.
Here are two people who would be interested to hear your opinion on the topic: Senator Thad Cochran (202-224-5054) and Congressman Jerry Lewis (202-225-5861), the pair of Republicans in charge of the conference committee. Feel free to give them a call and tell them what you think.
Oh, and one other public servant would love to hear from you. The public has been demanding for many months that Congress at least hold an open debate on the Iraq War, a lengthy debate allowing Congress Members from both sides of the aisle to introduce amendments and have them voted on. Instead, House Majority Leader John Boehner (202-225-6205) has announced that he'll allow a short debate next week, with no amendments allowed, and discussion limited to a phony bill the Republicans slapped together in secret this week on a napkin.
OK, I admit I don't know if it was on a napkin. But I guarantee it will sound like it when you read it.
My advice for next week, if you want to keep some sanity, is to ignore the House and watch the Senate, where Senator Russ Feingold will introduce an amendment on the floor requiring that all US troops in Iraq be "redeployed" by December 31.
Get C-Span and watch it, because the media will not tell you about it. They will not tell you for two reasons. First, Feingold is running for president, and the warmongers have already deemed him unacceptable. Second, Senator Hillary Clinton will vote against the amendment, and the warmongers have already deemed her the appropriate peace candidate to lose the 2008 election.