On Wednesday, I spoke with Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey about getting out of Iraq. They are moving in the right direction, but are not yet serious about ending the occupation this year. They are resigned to putting up an effort in a misguided approach, and then hoping to actually end it in 2009. It has not yet penetrated anyone's understanding that the best chance we have to end the occupation of Iraq between now and 2013 is during the next 14 months.
For almost a year Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been saying that the Democratic leadership in Congress should end the occupation of Iraq by not bringing up for a vote any more bills to fund it. For all these months, he has been the only member of Congress willing to say this.
The closest position espoused by any of the other 534 members of the House and Senate is that Congress should pass a bill to fund only the withdrawal of the troops and mercenaries. Of course, they don't say mercenaries but "contractors," and instead of withdrawal they say (and often mean) "redeployment," and they're willing to fund another year or more of the occupation if the bill doing so "funds the redeployment" by January 2009. This is the position of the 88 congress members who have signed the Peace Pledge Letter that is finally attracting a little attention. Or, rather, it would be their position if you could believe them. Most of the 88 just voted billions more for the occupation in a Continuing Resolution.
But here's the chief problem with the "fund a withdrawal" idea. It keeps everyone talking in terms of passing a bill. And once that bill fails in the Senate or is vetoed, everyone will still be talking in terms of passing a bill, but they'll pass a bill that simply funds the occupation. The idea that the Pentagon needs money to withdraw the troops and mercenaries is absurd. That's pocket change for the Pentagon. Kucinich advocates requiring Bush to use money already appropriated.
A recent poll offered people a choice of spending another $200 billion without conditions (13 percent of the country supported this), spending $200 billion but requiring that all troops be home within a year (19 percent), spending $50 billion and requiring that all troops be home in six months (14 percent), or requiring Bush to use existing funds to bring all troops home in six months (40 percent). One congress member represents 40 percent of Americans.
On Wednesday, Kucinich released a statement demanding that the Democratic leadership require Bush to use existing funds to end the occupation. "If they don't, then they're just as responsible as the President for continuing this illegal and immoral war," said Kucinich, "and open to accusations of fraud upon the American people for promising during last year's elections that Democratic control of the Congress would mean an end to the war. Instead of ending the war, the leadership has knuckled under time and time again and given the President every dollar he's asked for to continue it."
By delaying a vote until early next year on the Defense Department's $190 billion appropriation bill, the Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate have tacitly acknowledged that the war effort is already fully funded for the next several months, Kucinich said. "The leadership needs to force a showdown with the President and demand that those billions of dollars be used to bring our troops home now." He estimated the cost to withdraw all troops and equipment at between $5 billion and $10 billion. "That money is there right now. There is no excuse not to use it to bring our troops home."
Kucinich, the only Democratic Presidential candidate who voted against the original war authorization in 2002 and every supplemental war-funding appropriation since, said Democratic protestations that they don't have the votes to block additional funding "is a hoax. You don't need votes. All we need is the backbone to exercise our Constitutional authority and the integrity to keep our word to the voters to do what we said we would do: end this war. Now."
Kucinich has been saying this for many months and has failed, as far as I know, to bring a single additional congress member around to his position. Meanwhile, the Progressive Caucus, co-chaired by Woolsey and Lee, has organized 88 congress members to sign their letter, which begins
"Seventy House Members wrote in July to inform you that they will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of our troops out of Iraq before you leave office."
Kucinich is one of the 88 who have signed. If enough congress members back this letter and stand behind it, it will become very difficult for Pelosi to pass any Iraq funding bill other than the worst sort of unconditional funding that will win considerable backing from Republicans. A bill to fund a withdrawal will die in the Senate or be vetoed. At that point, Pelosi will search around for a bill she can pass without the support of progressives. What would make her less likely to go this route would be if the 87 other than Kucinich who have signed the letter were talking about it in terms of the ultimate goal of not passing any bill. Instead they are talking in terms of pressuring the Senate to pass their bill. The words "sixty senators" are constantly on their lips, even though everyone knows the next impossible feat after winning over 60 senators would have to be winning over 67 senators (60 to get past a filibuster, 67 to get past a veto).
At an event I attended Wednesday evening (see photo album), Congressman Jim Moran gave a speech in which he claimed that the Democrats could not end the occupation without 60 senators. This is crazy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could single-handedly refuse to bring Iraq funding bills up for votes. Or 41 senators could block any such bill. And Nancy Pelosi could single-handedly refuse to bring Iraq funding bills up for a vote. It would take 218 members signing a petition to force a vote against her will. And she has shown how effectively she can assert her will when she wants to.
Congresswomen Woolsey and Lee spoke after Moran. They spoke of the importance of the House acting as it should regardless of the Senate, but then lamented the state of the Senate and concluded that at least they'd end the occupation in 2009. I talked to Woolsey and Lee separately afterwards.
Woolsey did not at first even understand what I was trying to tell her. She insisted that 60 senate votes are needed. I explained that only 41 or 1 (Harry Reid's) would do it once we get to the point of blocking bills. She understood, but clearly believed the whole discussion was outside the realm of discourse on Capitol Hill.
Lee seemed to understand more quickly what I was saying, but also to lack any confidence that a real attempt to end the occupation this year could get off the ground. I asked her what would happen if her proposal for funding "redeployment" died in the Senate or on the president's desk. Would people understand that it was time to pass no legislation, or would they insist on passing some bill, any bill? The latter, she said. But she expressed a willingness to start trying to talk in terms of blocking any bills to fund the occupation.