You can't put a trillion dollars in a frame and hang it on the wall, but if it weren't for another kind of frame we would never spend this kind of money on war. When we frame the debate over war money with the idea that funding war amounts to "supporting troops," the debate is constrained to range from funding the war to funding the war more and faster.
If, on the other hand, a debate over funding a war were framed by the idea that what you're funding is, not troops, but a war, then one possible position in the debate would favor cutting off the funds. While you can cut off funds for war or Halliburton or Blackwater, you can never cut off funds for troops, so Congress will need a new frame if it is ever to attempt to end the war.
CBS News says that 67% of Americans would like Congress to set a date and cut off the war funding after that date. Many of those Americans would like that date to be today. The only way to protect our troops (or the people they're killing) is to bring them home. And of course the cost of flying them home is such a tiny fraction of the Pentagon budget as to be unnoticeable. But if you're willing to leave our troops in Iraq until some future date, and you buy into the fantasy that the war money is somehow for their benefit, it still remains the case that cutting off the money beyond a certain date doesn't harm any troops – it merely requires that they be brought home to their families by that date. And nothing other than cutting off the money comes close to requiring that. Asking a unitary executive to end a war, while handing him the money to continue it, will not end a war.
"Be careful about criticizing the Department," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, suggesting that criticizing him amounts to "attacking the career professionals." Senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) responded to this by blurting out a bit of truth: "That's like saying anyone who disagrees with the president's policy on the war is attacking the soldiers."
Yet, Durbin and his colleagues are in the press every single day promoting the idea that refusing to fund war amounts to not supporting soldiers. Even those who, unlike Durbin, are pushing to cut off the funds, still promote this self-defeating frame. Senator Russ Feingold (D., Wisc.) has sponsored a bill to cut off the money and end the war, but is continually releasing statements like this one:
The troops would be amazed and bewildered to learn that they might be receiving any funding. A majority of those serving in Iraq wanted the war ended last year.
Of course, the Supplemental does not use the power of the purse to end the war. The versions passed by the Senate and the House both provide Bush with money to continue the war while asking him to end it by a certain date, without cutting off the money. Even the House bills that would use the power of the purse to end the war don't speak of cutting off the funds, but rather of "funding a withdrawal." Congress Members are virtually unanimous in placing more priority on avoiding speaking of cutting off funds than on actually doing the work of cutting off funds. If rhetoric had no influence on action, this wouldn't be such a problem.
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would join with Feingold in backing legislation to cut off the funds, Senator Carl Levin went on ABC's "This Week" and said:
"We're not going to vote to cut the funding, period. ... We're not going to cut off funding for the troops. We shouldn't cut off funding for the troops. ... We're going to vote for a bill that funds the troops, period. We're going to fund the troops. We always have."
When asked at the University of Michigan why he would side with the President against the majority of Americans when his own party's leader had finally taken a stand, Levin replied that cutting funding for the war is what Rush Limbaugh wants and would play into Bush's hands. The Democrats would probably lose a battle over funding and end up looking "really bad."
When the Democrats in the House insisted on passing the Supplemental to further fund this unpopular war, they told the peace movement that that was the best they could do, and that the bill would be a step toward ending the war because it would contain in it a requirement to end the war by a certain date. Now that requirement may be stripped out in conference committee and/or left out of future bills.
But the "requirement" that the fully funded war be ended was never of central concern to the party leadership. Rather, their focus was on including in the bill requests that Unitary Executive Bush please properly equip, train, and rest the troops. The hoped-for joy of seeing Bush veto such support-the-troops measures, meaningless and waivable as they might be, took center stage in their minds. Ending the war became a footnote.