Inside Congress opinions vary, and it is a distinct minority that is willing to support public opinion. Some in Congress are willing to take half-way and tenth-of-the-way steps in the direction of ending the war, some of them from within such fantasyland worldviews that they are "threatening" to stop occupying Iraq if the Iraqis don't behave better (that is, threatening something that over 80 percent of Iraqis desire).
A forum hosted by progressive House members Thursday morning (to air live on Pacifica Radio from 8:30 to 11 a.m. ET, with blogging on AfterDowningStreet.org, and open to the public in Rayburn House Office Building Room 2325) will highlight the best that Congress has to offer. But it's worth taking a quick overview of what's out there.
The grimmest side of the Capitol is, of course, the Senate, which is now considering a "supplemental spending" bill for the war, something already passed by the House with 71 members voting No. This would mean another $67 billion for occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, including $348 million for constructing permanent military bases in Iraq, something U.S. taxpayers have already spent $1 billion on. The House, amazingly, passed an amendment to its supplemental spending bill stipulating that none of the money could be used for permanent bases. Senator Joseph Biden is expected to offer a similar amendment in the Senate, as well as an amendment that would pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by rescinding certain tax breaks for the top one percent of taxpayers.
Senator Robert Byrd plans to introduce an amendment stating that any request for funds for an ongoing military operation overseas, including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, should be included in the annual budget of the President rather than using emergency supplemental appropriations bills that receive less scrutiny.
That's about it for the amendments that make any sense. Then we have an amendment, already introduced, that gets a little weird. Senators Carl Levin, Susan Collins, and Jack Reed have introduced an amendment that Levin says will "urge the president to make it clear to the Iraqis that their meeting their own self-imposed deadlines is a condition of the continued presence of American military forces in Iraq." In other words, if the Iraqis don't shape up, we'll do what over 80 percent of them want and pull our soldiers out of their country. Not a bad consequence for a little slacking off, eh?
But what if the Iraqis do what Levin and gang want, then do we drop our "threat" to pull the troops out, or do we then pull the troops out because the situation is more desirable? This exchange from a press conference on Tuesday leaves some doubt:
"QUESTION: It sounds like either way you're calling for a phased withdrawal of the troops, perhaps by the end of the year. (OFF-MIKE) because even if they don't meet the deadlines, you'd pull the troops out, and if they do meet the deadlines (OFF-MIKE)
"LEVIN: This amendment and the sense of the Senate resolution which is attached to it addresses only the question of their meeting their deadlines that their constitution establishes and linking the continued presence of our troops to their willingness to meet their own deadlines. That's all that it covers. "
Senator John Kerry has introduced a bill, S. J. Res. 33, that is somewhat similar: If Iraq does not form a "unity government" by May 15, then the U.S. would pull its troops out at "the earliest practicable date." If Iraq does do so, then Bush is supposed to reach an agreement with Iraq as soon as possible on a schedule for pulling the troops out. This proposal appears to share the same flaw most proposals in Congress have: it leaves too much control in the hands of George W. Bush.
Senator Russ Feingold, meanwhile, has introduced S. Res. 171, which calls on the President to submit a report to Congress within 30 days describing the remaining mission of the Armed Forces in Iraq, a current estimate of the time frame required to accomplish that mission, and a time frame for the subsequent withdrawal of troops from Iraq. With Bush having already announced that the troops will occupy Iraq as long as he occupies the White House, it's not clear what report would be generated by passing this bill.
What's missing from the Senate is a bill that simply says that the U.S. Congress will no longer pay a dime for the war, and that the war must therefore end now.
The House has such a bill, H.R. 4232, the End the War in Iraq Act of 2005, introduced by Congressman Jim McGovern. This bill would allow spending only on reconstruction and on bringing our soldiers safely home.
While McGovern's bill has very few cosponsors (15), it might garner more support if a vote could be forced on it. The House "leadership," however, is not interested in even talking about the war.
Congressman Neil Abercrombie has introduced a petition to try to force a discussion of a bill about the war and to allow any amendments to be proposed and considered on the floor. The petition, H.Res. 543, would discharge another bill, H.J.Res. 55. If 218 members sign the discharge petition, the bill will be brought to the floor for debate and a vote.
H.J. Res. 55 is one of many half-way bills in the House. It requires that we begin withdrawing troops by this coming October, which the November elections virtually require anyway, and does not specify when we would have to FINISH withdrawing the troops.
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