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Why the Progressive Caucus Should Vote No on War Money

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The Supplemental spending bill proposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi funds the war. It gives Cheney and Bush roughly another $100 billion. And you can be quite sure they will spend it as they choose, which may include attacking Iran. In fact, a measure in the bill requiring Bush to get Congress's approval before attacking Iran (an attack that would violate the US Constitution and the UN charter) has been removed.

The bill also requires Iraq to turn much of its oil profits over to foreign corporations. This illegally rewards the Bush and Cheney gang for their illegal war.

Beyond that, the bill does a number of things to nudge Bush in the direction of limiting the war, but most of them are for show.

This bill pretends to ban torture. Torture was always illegal. The framers of our Constitution sought to leave such practices behind in England. The US is a party to international treaties banning all torture. Nonetheless, the last Congress, the Republican Congress, banned torture, and Bush used a signing statement to announce his intention to ignore the ban. Now Pelosi wants credit for pretending to ban torture again. You cannot ban torture under a dictator who has publicly announced that he will ignore your bans. You can only end torture by ending the pretense that there is not a dictator living in the Vice President's house.

The bill also intends to pretend to limit how many days a soldier or Marine can be kept in Iraq. The Republican Congress did this in 2003, and Bush threw it out with a signing statement.

Some previous presidents had used signing statements, but never to announce their intention to disobey the law. And in many cases, including the two I've just mentioned, we know that Bush has in fact disobeyed those laws.

And don't imagine thatNancy Pelosi is unaware of this. She's a step ahead of you. She's included in the bill a right for the president to waive the restrictions. So, this time, no signing statement will be needed. Instead we'll get a waiver. I'm sure that'll make the soldier on his or her third tour of Iraq feel better when they're told that they're going to stay a little longer this time. In polls last year our troops in Iraq said they wanted to all come home last year.

What else does the Pelosi bill do? Well, it requires Bush to report periodically that progress is being made, and then at sometime next year, depending on what Bush claims, it requires at least some troops to move to Afghanistan. Congressman Obey says that's where the war should be. The bill says nothing about bringing anyone home, and nothing about leaving no permanent bases in Iraq. In fact, it includes so many loopholes - for protecting bases, protecting other troops, training Iraqis - that most US troops will be able to stay in Iraq forever.

That doesn't sound like much of an anti-war bill. It gets worse. The two most disturbing things about the bill to my mind are the way it treats the president and the way it throws in unrelated benefits in order to bribe various congress members to support it. The bill asks Bush to report on progress in Iraq. A reporter asked Pelosi if there was any mechanism for determining whether Bush tells the truth. Pelosi replied that she was sure he would.

There's that pretense again, that everything-is-normal it-can't-happen-here pretense.

The bill also includes many measures that could easily be addressed in other bills, many of them worthwhile and long overdue, including aid to veterans, Katrina victims, farmers. The dishonesty involved in packaging a war bill this way was made clear when Congressman Obey yelled at military mother Tina Richards that she needed to support this bill or she would be opposing health care for veterans. In the last Congress, Obey declined to support a bill to provide health care to veterans.

Barbara Lee's amendment takes a different approach, one that does not involve micromanaging the war or funding it. The amendment would restrict spending to withdrawing troops. We have a list of which members are saying they will vote No on the supplemental unless it has Lee's amendment:

These are our heroes. These are the only members of Congress who are genuinely acting in support of our troops.

If Pelosi's bill passes and survives in a recognizable form following a conference committee, Bush has promised to veto it. But there's a decent chance he'll "signing statement" it instead. He wants the money, and he knows Pelosi won't fight for the toothless restrictions in the bill if he deletes them with a signing statement. To do so, she would have to call him a criminal.

Instead, she's already saying that if her bill does not pass, she'll have to support one the Republicans like, one with no limitations at all. But it is not true that she'll have to do that. She can support a bill like Lynn Woolsey's or Dennis Kucinich's or Jerrold Nadler's or Jim McGovern's and pressure conservative Democrats to join the rest of her caucus.

She will be compelled to do so by public opinion if the Progressive Caucus stands strong.

Voting for her war bill would only encourage her to come back with a worse one once it fails. And if Lee's amendment gets a vote and progressives vote for it, that will not be seen as any excuse for then turning around and voting to fund the war.

The groups that have not recognized any excuses for voting for this war bill include United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America, US Labor Against the War, After Downing Street, Democrats.com, Peace Action, Code Pink, Democracy Rising, True Majority, Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Backbone Campaign, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Voters for Peace, and disgruntled former members of MoveOn.

The public is already seeing through the charade. The Pelosi bill will be remembered as the pro-war vote, the vote in which the Democrats bought and became owners of the war, unless the Progressive Caucus stops it. Those who stop it will be our heroes and will have earned the power to lead the way toward a better bill. We are going to remember who votes No, who votes Yes, who votes Present, and who does not vote. This one is going to be carved in stone for posterity. This is the vote you get elected in order to make.
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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
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