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September 13, 2007

Comments

Ugh. Very frustrating.

Yeah, he frustrates me sometimes too. ;)

I think you are correct that nothing is going to change without a new prez and a new congress.

Yes, supporting a spectering bill is a very bad idea.

I disagree that everyone among the "activists" knows the Democrats lack the numbers to force a withdrawal. There certainly seem to be a lot of folks out there who don't accept that.

Politics can be unbelievably disappointing sometimes...

I frustrate myself too.

Well, there's the funding thing. Even if one accepts the argument that it's too risky, or at least finds it understandable, depicting it as *so completely inconceivable that it's not worth mentioning* is frustrating.

that nothing is going to change without a new prez and a new congress.

We'll need an entirely new prez and congress for the Iraq policy to change substantially. Candidates who didn't vote for the war, who aren't tied to interests that benefit from the war, who are backed by solid constituencies (votes, money, marketing) that can support them through (FORCE them through) the withering attacks from the pro-war heavies.

The current crop of Democratic likelies are offering smaller footprint variations on more of the same (The Bush Lite Options) while the current crop of GOP likelies are offering to get us into a war with Iran, too (The Make Us Accept The Bush Lite Options as Options Options).

Unless that anti-war constituency forms/gets it act together, I think we get Bush Lite for the next several presidential administrations.

Was just thinking the same thing, too, along with everyone else.

Note that military contributions to Dems are skyrocketing, if I'm reading this story correctly. The Democrats will squander this good will if they give George Bush the final say on whether troops are to remain. Because he wants them to stay there forever. So don't give him the final say. Make voters and our troops happy.

It is more than disappointing to be subject to the vagaries of this Congress... it borders on criminal conspiracy. I don't begrudge President Dorkwaffel what he does, given the limp-genitaled opposiiton cowering behind behind 'conventional wisdom' even in the face of public opinion polls that give them a clear message.

Oh, and I send personal 'GET A SPINE!' notes to my representatives regularly, so I won't be subpoenaed when the indictments for felony wimpiness get handed down.

Katherine, I think the funding route, if you mean by that cutting off funding as a power to actually stop the war when matched up against a President like Bush, may well be "completely inconceivable".

The problem is that Bush could always decide to veto any regular Defense appropriation that purported to forbid him from spending money on Iraq, and muddle through with regular funding and the help of the Feed and Forage Act, while blaming any troop suffering that resulted from the lack of a supplemental (or that he controlled but could plausibly claim resulted from the lack of a supplemental) on the Democrats. To counteract that tactic, the Democratic Congress would have to refuse to pass any defense appropriation that didn't forbid the Iraq war, in effect threatening to defund the entire Army if Bush didn't back down. But while defunding and disbanding the standing army (and relying on the state militias) was a plausible way to defend the Congressional appropriations power against Presidential overreaching at the time of the Framers -- hence the provision in Art. I, Sec. 8, par. 12 of the Constitution that with respect to Congress's power "To raise and support Armies... no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years" -- I think it is in fact "completely inconceivable" today.

Now, whether this makes defunding "so completely inconceivable that it's not worth mentioning" is, I admit, debatable; it might be useful for the Democrats to explain this sort of reasoning to the public, if it is what they're thinking. On the other hand, the Democrats don't want the public to get the impression that they have more power than they actually do, and then blame them for failure to win a "game of chicken" that they can't win.

"To counteract that tactic, the Democratic Congress would have to refuse to pass any defense appropriation that didn't forbid the Iraq war, in effect threatening to defund the entire Army if Bush didn't back down."

This is a super-limited view of Congressional power. These scenarios are only true so long as we are talking about enormous omnibus bills. There is no reason we have to pass bills that way. They could send each portion that they wanted separately.

Furthermore, how does setting limits on use frame into CONGRESS threatening to shut down the whole army if Bush doesn't back down. Any competent politician would frame that as BUSH threatening to shut down the whole army.

Of course 'any competent politician' may indeed be the problem.

The fact that the president has a much more powerful megaphone does make framing difficult, as does the preestablished storyline that Democrats are antimilitary, which Republicans and the media are happy to plug things into.

It's all pretty sickening.

Especially the fact that the two words I find most hopeful in the GOP debates are "Ron Paul", whom if he was given any power whatsoever would need to be instantly impeached.

"Pete McCloskey". I like those two words.

Sebastian, the problem with sending portions of the appropriation separately in this context is that, on my analysis, Bush would simply veto any portion that contained an explicit restriction against use in Iraq. I suppose one could try to so specifically direct all other pieces of funding that none of them could be used for Iraq, without actually saying so, but I think it is probably impossible to draft restrictions specific enough that Bush will not feel himself permitted to evade them (and get the military and at least 34 Senators to go along with this), but unspecific enough that they will not trigger a veto.

As for the framing issue, I agree with KCinDC's point, and I would add that ultimately it may not matter too much who would get the blame for a concededly inconceivable outcome. It is in the nature of a game of chicken - particularly one played against an opponent who is essentially a sociopath, doesn't care what harm he causes to others, and is metaphorically driving a bus filled with innocent passengers towards the threatened crash - that one may need to swerve, and thus lose, even if one has the right of way, because the crash would be worse. Whether Bush gets the blame, I would think, matters primarily if Bush cares what people think of him-- and the evidence is pretty strong that mere unpopularity of his actions, as opposed to the threat of defeat by legal force (as in Harriet Miers's impending nonconfirmation), does not cause Bush to back down.

I suppose there may be a chance we could get 17 Republican Senators (counting Lieberman as a Republican for these purposes), and the requisite number of Republican House members, to override Bush if he escalated the confrontation and the public could be convinced to see it as his fault. But that's somewhat beside the point since what we were discussing, I thought, is whether the Democrats, on their own, "lack the numbers to force withdrawals", as publius said. I contend that they do.

" They can either force Republicans to “own” this state of affairs. Or, they could pass toothless legislation that changes nothing other than give the Democrats’ part ownership as well."

I really can't understand why the Democrats haven't internalised this. Not only is it completely obvious in principle, they've had ample opportunity to see it in practice over the last few years. And yet they play Charlie Brown with the football every single time. The only exception was the Social Security bill. Loads of "centrists" counselled compromise, but the Democrats remarkably held their ground, which resulted in a massive political win for them and a massive blow for the Republicans. Why on earth don't they learn from that experience?

The only exception was the Social Security bill. Loads of "centrists" counselled compromise, but the Democrats remarkably held their ground,

They had massive political support behind them (institutions, individuals, think-leaders, money) pushing them to hold the line. Nothing remotely similar exists on the anti-war side.

Maybe a new Truman Commission would help galvanize it.

"They had massive political support behind them (institutions, individuals, think-leaders, money) pushing them to hold the line. Nothing remotely similar exists on the anti-war side."

Well, apart from the overwhelming wishes of the American population and the Iraqi population, as well as the self-evident disaster that is Iraq. I realise it's not the same thing, but you'd think it would be enough.

"Despite the unpopularity of the Iraq war, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama predicted Thursday that Congress won't directly challenge President Bush's plans and will focus instead on putting a ceiling on the number of troops deployed to that country."

I assume HRC isn't taking the Dodd stance either.

(in ref. to)

Note that Bush has an established history of spending Defense Department funds for purposes other than Congress intended (and getting away with it). In 2002, funds allocated for the war in Afghanistan were diverted to prepare for attacking Iraq.

"(and getting away with it)"

Good point, but it might be a lot harder now given Bush's 30% approval rating and the issue's greater salience.

"Sebastian, the problem with sending portions of the appropriation separately in this context is that, on my analysis, Bush would simply veto any portion that contained an explicit restriction against use in Iraq."

So what? Isn't that EXACTLY what you need to have happen to challenge him?

It is fine to say that Congress does not desire to challenge the President, but that is a question of will not institutional power or ability. Congress absolutely has the ability to challenge the president on this matter and they choose not to. They absolutely have the ability to cut off the funding, and they choose not to.

And the idea that Republicans are a monolithic core on the issue either seems silly. As elections approach closer and closer there is less and less reason to be tied to Bush's atrocious policies. Now, if Democrats are going to shape it as a club to beat those who vote WITH them (which seems like a really unproductive strategy) I guess both sides have to decide if beating each other up is more important than doing what is right for the country. Republicans have been abysmal on that score, but frankly the only reason Democrats look 'good' is in comparison--hell they even beat up other Democrats who try to change sides on the war.

It is all very depressing, yes.

But it is not lack of Congressional POWER. Pretending that it is just leads to a useless despair. Congress has the power. Democrats in Congress have the power. The House could do it alone, and they are controlled by the Democrats.

They lack the will. They don't want to commit to it. And that is unfortunate for everyone. And if you want that to be corrected, the first step is accurately diagnosing the problem.

I realize the post title is based on the phrase "surrender monkeys", but I keep mentally connecting it to "Surrender Dorothy".

Bleah. It's not that I hate agreeing with you because of who's saying it, I hate agreeing with you because I wish it weren't true. But what you say is absolutely true. (With caveats for 'Congress does not desire' and 'Congress absolutely has the ability' -- it's a group of people, many of whom probably would like to challenge the administration and would if they could. But not enough of them agree on wanting to challenge the administration.)

OT - they really do want endless war:

U.S. intelligence officials have developed evidence showing that North Korea is helping Syria to develop a nuclear program for weapons purposes, FOX News has learned in recent interviews with sources who have knowledge of the situation.

And, golly, this just happens to be released today:

Audio portions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's testimony from his Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo Bay were released by the Pentagon Thursday.

Sebastian, when you say that "Congress absolutely has the ability to cut off the funding," while agreeing with me that Bush would veto any Defense Department appropriation attempting to do so, it seems to me that you have to mean one of three things, all of which I think are likely incorrect:

1. Bush will eventually back down and allow a Defense Department appropriation to be enacted into law that specifically cuts off funding for Iraq-- or will back down and refrain from using any Defense Department funding that is not specifically designated for the Iraq war to fund that war, notwithstanding his history to the contrary as mentioned by KCinDC.

2. The Democrats can, feasibly, continue to send Bush Defense Department appropriations that explicitly cut off funding for Iraq, continue to have him veto them, and remain unable to override, with the eventual result that the U.S. Army receives no funding at all. The U.S. Army running out of funds is not an "inconceivable" result in modern times, a result that Democrats would be compelled to blink first in order to avoid.

3. A sufficient number of Republicans will eventually join with Democrats to override Bush's predicted vetoes of any defense appropriation that includes an explicit Iraq funding cutoff.

Which one of these three things do you believe to be true? (If #3, I would find it interesting but not strictly a refutation of my original point, which was about whether the Democrats by themselves lacked the numbers to force a withdrawal.) Or do you disagree with my logic? And if so, where do you think that I have erred?

Obama *really* needs to learn that there is no benefit to him in predicting that the Senate will cave on issue X. I would make the same exact prediction, but from a sitting Senator, it comes off quite differently & much worse: he sounds okay with it, even if he's not.

I really don't see what the upside is.

I really liked his Iraq speech yesterday, & I lean somewhat towards him among the three leading candidates. But his campaign strategy bewilders me. He is not running like someone who needs to come from behind to win a Democratic primary.

"He is not running like someone who needs to come from behind to win a Democratic primary."

I assume he's running according to his principles, which is abstractly admirable, and maybe even good strategy. Maybe HRC can't be caught, given her staff strength and her support among women, blacks, and fans of Bill, unless she trips out of the race, in which case Obama would be well-positioned to win both the nomination and the presidency with his post-partisanship.

I don't think his principles actually require him to go all meta with news reporters.

I've said for the better part of a year now that the Democrats need to propose a blizzard of *different* ways to end the Iraq War. In no particular order, put out a timed withdrawal bill, a benchmarked withdrawal bill, a readiness standard, a maximum tour/ minimum rest standard, a redeploy to Afghanistan to go ofter OBL, a funds diversion to energy independence, and on and on until the clock is ticking loudly on military funding. THEN put in short-term appropriation bills, with some of the same conditions. Once (essentially) every Republican in Congress is on record as wanting to stay forever in Iraq even if it doesn't do any good, supports sending out ill-equipped troops, supports breaking up military families, opposes chasing OBL, supports dependence on Middle East oil, and does them all so strongly they're willing to let the troops starve to do it, THEN the Dems can play surrender monkey - and spend the next year talking about how tragic it is that each and every Republican Senator puts party so far ahead of country, and asking why Republican Senators hate the troops so much. As a side benefit, all the Republican presidential candidates will be forced to accept this toxic soup of insane demands. It's even possible that, when faced with this kind of political catastrophe, enough Republicans will cave for an override and we actually will start getting out of Iraq.

(and I don't think there was anything insincere or unprincipled more forceful rhetoric like, say, his 2002 Iraq speech. His language seems carefully calibrated and deliberately chosen--the choices seem odd for a primary campaign.)

OT: hilzoy, how about a post on the Trolley Problem and The Fat Man etc?

"I don't think his principles actually require him to go all meta with news reporters."

Sure, that seems dumb to me - infuriatingly so, esp. because I recall him doing the same thing before. Maybe he was asked what he thought would happen and didn't want to lie.

"I've said for the better part of a year now that the Democrats need to propose a blizzard of *different* ways to end the Iraq War."

What about the "The Dems are divided and arguing against each other and weak" spin the press will put on that? Or the "The Dems are playing politics with the troops" spin for the rest?

Well, people, tonight's gonna be fun. I heard Bush is going to call for a permanent presence in Iraq on the model of Korea.

To be fair: Obama's full remarks.

I don't know what purpose stories like the original AP one even serve: in three paragraphs, we could either read a candidates' words, or a few brief quotes from those words, a reporter's possibly inaccurate paraphrase of the rest, and a bunch of useless, subjective horse-race-y speculation. Just post the text of the speech! Just post the results of a poll, including the exact questions, instead of a stilted little narrative about it! If a poll or a speech or a document or a transcript are too long for most people to read, then fine, write a summary, but then link to the original too.

How many bills have the Dem's introduced to cut-off funding to the troops in Iraq?

Even if it wouldn't pass they might gain some credibility.

There has to be something they can do to end this senseless war, given they have control over both houses. It doesn't take a majority to cut the funding... it only takes courage of convictions.

The most maddening thing about poll stories (aside from the absence of the full text of the questions) is that they say things like "two out of five" or "just over half" instead of just giving the bloody percentages.

bilb, I think it's a little misleading to say that the Democrats "have control over both houses," at least with respect to things related to the Iraq war. In the Senate, there are 49 Democrats, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and 49 Republicans. The Democrats have official majority control of the Senate because both Sanders and Lieberman caucus with them for organizational purposes. But while Sanders is functionally a Democrat for the purposes of the Iraq war debate, Lieberman is functionally a Republican for those purposes, so the Democrats always need at least one Republican to support them or they'll lose 51-50 with Cheney breaking the tie as the 101st vote.

As for bills the Dems have introduced to cut off funding, I believe there have been quite a number, but I'll concede that that number may not be the relevant metric since some of them haven't gotten even near-unified Democratic support (I think the last pure funding cutoff got around 30 votes in the Senate). However, the House, which the Democrats more truly control, passed a version of the supplemental appropriation in the spring that would have mandated withdrawal from Iraq completed by a date certain (Sept. 1, 2008). It didn't explicitly invoke the funding power, but that strikes me as immaterial, since Congress has the equally valid power to "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" (Art. I, sec. 8, par. 14)-- if they think that power is less susceptible to political distortion and practical manipulation that harms the troops, I see no reason why they shouldn't use it instead. That bill got watered down in the not-truly-Democratically-controlled Senate, to one that required Bush to start the withdrawal by a date certain but left the end date nonbinding, and then was vetoed. I'm not sure it gained the Democrats much "credibility" with the public, but I believe it should have.

As for the view that there "has to be something they can do", it would be nice if that were true, but I don't think argument by unsupported assertion is useful here given how complex the situation is. I've laid out above why I don't think a simple majority, let alone less than a simple majority, can end the war given Bush's malicious stubbornness, and I'll ask you the same question I asked Sebastian: with which specific part of my analysis do you disagree?

Katherine, thanks a lot for that link - that's much much better. The original article I quoted is close to malpractice.

Incidentally, "you gotta' have 67 votes" from the Obama campaign - what in the world's up with that? Running away from Harvard?

I don't disagree with to much of what you said, but I think it would be misleading to say that Democrats are not in control of what legislation can be brought to the floor.

I would be bringing up a bill to end funding of the war every day.

How can Reid and Pelosi do less while we have soldiers dieing needlessly?

"It didn't explicitly invoke the funding power"

I don't see how one can know that Bush is getting our soldiers killed and not take a position to defund the war.

If they support the troops they should be forcing Bush to veto legislation to end the war as much as possible.

They aren't doing that.

You don't need 67 votes. You need to control the House.

All spending measures have to originate in the House.

Democrats control the House.

Bush can't veto an expene authorization you don't make. You just don't make it if you aren't happy with it. End of story.

That is the power of the House of Representatives. It is more than enough power to get the job done. It is not correct to talk as if they don't have the power to do it. That is both wrong and distracting. The problem is not lack of power. The problem is lack of will. For some reason, they don't want to do it. The only two plausible explanations that I can see are that they A) don't want to, or B) can't think of a way to avoid getting tainted with ending the war.

Neither are encouraging to me, but B) seems just stupid. What do they think the point of having the House is?

bilb, I think we may agree more than we disagree-- I agree with you that the Democrats should have forced more vetoes of war-ending legislation, or at least brought up such legislation and seen it die in the Senate more often than they have.

I do disagree about the conflation of "defund[ing] the war" and "end[ing]" the war, though. My point in that respect was that an appropriations bill stating in binding language that the Secretary of Defense shall not deploy or maintain troops in Iraq past a certain date except for certain limited purposes (embassy protection and limited antiterrorism missions as I recall), as the House Democrats' spring bill did, is not necessarily inferior to one stating that funding is made unavailable for troops in Iraq past a certain date except for those same purposes (as the more-often-praised Feingold bill did). In my view, Congress can use its Art. I, sec. 8, par. 12 power to "raise and support Armies", or its Art. I, sec. 8, par. 14 to "make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces", to get troops out of Iraq, depending on which it thinks is more practically and politically beneficial. The funding power is not somehow sacred such that it must be used even if the rulemaking power is considered less susceptible to harmful abuse and political manipulation by President Bush.

The only two plausible explanations that I can see are that they A) don't want to, or B) can't think of a way to avoid getting tainted with ending the war.

C) think Bush would abandon the troops in Iraq in such an event.
D) think Bush would defy them and keep the war running anyway, using the vault of cash stored in the Meadowlands if necessary.

Yes, rilkefan, someone at the Obama campaign has odd ideas about apostrophe usage. There's also an apostrophe after "gonna" consistently in that passage.

Sebastian, you're not engaging my argument. My point above was that eventually, if the Democrats simply do not pass an appropriation for the Army that is signed into law, the Army would lack funding, and that this is not a feasible option in the modern world.

Are you suggesting that defunding the U.S. Army is in fact feasible? Or are you suggesting that the Democrats can fund the Army, but not the Iraq war, without Bush responding by either (A) vetoing any Defense appropriation that explicitly forbids funds from being spent on the war, or (B) using funds appropriated for the rest of the Defense Department to conduct the Iraq war, while reacting to the resulting shortage of funds by cutting back on body armor and troop R&R and so on and blaming it on the Democrats?

Beyond the bizarre apostrophe, why is Senator Obama being transcribed by his staff as saying "gonna"?


I think I don't understand SH on 67 votes, since the budget has to get past the Senate. Ditto Drum.

Color me disgusted. This is not a positive sign.

"Sebastian, you're not engaging my argument. My point above was that eventually, if the Democrats simply do not pass an appropriation for the Army that is signed into law, the Army would lack funding, and that this is not a feasible option in the modern world."

That's quite speculative don't you think? And again, the House can pass all sorts of appropriations for the Army that don't involve Iraq, putting the issue clearly before Bush.

I don't see how "Bush has possible coutermoves that would politically devastating for the Republican Party" is an argument for inaction.

Nor is it an argument for saying that Democrats CANNOT stop the war. It is in argument saying that Democrats are not willing politically willing to stop the war even now that they have the power. If you are saying that Democrats can stop the war but choose not to (for whatever reason), I agree. I do not agree that the only two choices before the Democrats (who control the House) are:

A) fund everything military-related that Bush wants or

B) defund the Army entirely

You act as if you believe that to be true? But when put so starkly, isn't it obviously silly? And if you truly believe that Bush would be so foolish as to veto a long succession of otherwise perfectly good military funding bills, is it not the whole point of politics to force him to actually do so and force Republicans to deal with the consequences?

As for "he could fund it anyway by illegal means", make him do so and then impeach. It isn't as if he would be illegally funding a hugely popular war.

Rilkefan, you write "I think I don't understand SH on 67 votes, since the budget has to get past the Senate."

Let me put it very clearly. The war could be defunded with ZERO votes in the Senate. If the House does not pass an appropriation, there is nothing the Senate can do. Democrats control an absolute majority in the House. All they have to do to defund the war is not pass appropriations for it. That is why there is talk about 'defunding' rather than 'passing a law ending the war'. 'Defunding' requires zero votes in the Senate (and therefore certainly not 67).

I do disagree about the conflation of "defund[ing] the war" and "end[ing]" the war, though

Agreed, just lazy typing.

The point is to do something. They have to use the means available to them until change is made.

To do otherwise is irresponsible. Do they not realize we are talking about American soldiers dieing for no reason? Do they think that is acceptable?

In the same situation would you not do more to save lives than what Reid and Pelosi are doing?

This post has a tempting title :)

I'll save my rants for the other place.

My obvious hypothesis here is that a significant fraction of democratic legislators are being blackmailed by Bush.

Bush has the FBI available to collect blackmail material. In fact the FBI has been collecting blackmail material on legislators for well over 70 years, the question is more who to give that material to than whether to collect it.

So the democratic party is allowed to do a certain weak sort of showboating, but when they try to pass a significant bill on the war they don't have the votes.

J,

That's absurd. What could the FBI have on Congressmen that is more relevant than the deaths of our soldiers?

If that truly is the case we are all screwed to be represented by such people.

What about Harry Reid publicly blackmailing Judge Saad, or Mike Rogers blackmailing Larry Craig over Justice Alito, or Hillary Clinton and the lost FBI files?

Those incidents were real, and reported. No such thing has come to light in Pres Bush's 6 years 8 months. Is it because he is so smart?

The Democrats can, feasibly, continue to send Bush Defense Department appropriations that explicitly cut off funding for Iraq, continue to have him veto them, and remain unable to override, with the eventual result that the U.S. Army receives no funding at all.

Pardon me if I'm being dense, but if Bush vetoes every bill, why would the eventual result be no funding for the Army? The point is to make Bush veto again and again, not necessisarily succeed legislatively (strictly speaking).

And if you truly believe that Bush would be so foolish as to veto a long succession of otherwise perfectly good military funding bills, is it not the whole point of politics to force him to actually do so and force Republicans to deal with the consequences?

In the last ten years we have seen the GOP pull all sorts of foolish shenannigans. And time and time again (until 2006 at least) there have been no consequences. I am afraid that Bush will simply not do anything except launch a nationwide tour in support of the troops.

Now 80% of the country will see what he's doing and hate him for it. But meanwhile the army would suffer horribly and the only solution would be immediate impeachment. But I don't have faith that the GOP congress critters would vote to impeach or convict, such a pathetic lot that they are. And so And here ya are. And it's a beautiful day.

Sebastian:

When you say that "the House can pass all sorts of appropriations for the Army that do not involve Iraq," it seems to me that you can mean one of two things.

First, you may be referring to appropriations that do not mention Iraq at all in any way, but provide general funding for the army. I am not sure what you think will stop Bush from using those appropriations to continue the Iraq war (albeit in an underfunded fashion that causes harm to the troops that he will then blame on the Democrats)-- not sure why you think appropriations that do not mention Iraq will cause a "clean break" and complete withdrawal, rather than merely a generalized shortage of cash that necessitates widespread belt-tightening without forcing the President to cease one particular activity entirely.

Second, you may be referring to appropriations that fund the Army but that explicitly say something like, "none of the funds appropriated by this bill shall be used to continue the war in Iraq." My prediction is that any bill containing such language will be vetoed by President Bush. (I think you may disagree, but it's not 100% clear, and it might be helpful if you clarified: do you think that there are possible appropriations bills containing such language which he would not veto?) Thus, if the House Democrats decide that they will only pass defense appropriations that contain such language, and that they will refuse to pass appropriations lacking such language, then at some point they will run into the army-defunding problem because all of the defense appropriations will have been vetoed.

I agree with you that it would be better politically to force Bush to veto "perfectly good military spending bills" that forbid spending of the funds in those bills on continuation of the Iraq war past a certain date (or that simply forbid continuation of the Iraq war past a certain date pursuant to Congress's rulemaking power, as the House version of the spring supplemental appropriation did), if we can get those through the Senate. I don't disagree with publius about the politics of forcing repeated vetoes, if possible; I just agree with him that forcing such vetoes won't change the ultimate result of continuation of the war. In particular, I don't see how refraining from enacting bills that say anything about Iraq, while enacting other defense appropriations bills that don't mention Iraq, would prevent the President from spending other Defense money in Iraq, while exploiting the funding shortfall that results from the lack of a supplemental appropriation specifically for Iraq to provide the troops with less body armor and R&R and so on and blame the Democrats. Thus, it seems to me that there is no equivalent of the veto-forcing strategy that can be done by the House alone; the Senate's cooperation is required to pass the restrictive language.

Also, with respect to the possibility of illegal funding, if by hypothesis you don't have 67 votes in the Senate to oppose the President's war policy, then it seems to me that impeachment is pretty much pointless because you'll never be able to convict and remove. Unless your view is that a sufficient number of Republicans would vote to sustain the President's vetoes, but also vote to remove him from office for shifting funds around illegally. In which case you have a higher opinion of the intellectual integrity and dedication to the Constitution of Republican Senators than I do, and we simply disagree about that prediction.


johnnybutter: if what Bush is vetoing "again and again" is the defense appropriations bill - that is, the bill providing funding for the army - because said bill has language in it forbidding use of the funding for the Iraq war, then it seems to me that eventually the army will run out of funding. According to the Constitution, after all, the previous funding can't have been appropriated for a term of more than two years, and I don't think the Democrats passed any two-year funding in early 2007.


billb: I'd "do more" to make clear that it was Republicans who were keeping the war going, but I wouldn't expect what I was doing to have substantive effect during Bush's term. That is, I'm disagreeing with Sebastian and to some extent Katherine, but not with publius.

I don't believe Bush would repeatedly veto such bills. Perhaps once, since he knows the Democrats would almost certainly cave. Theoretically twice, but three times? Enough that the military becomes unfunded? I don't think so. And if he did, you could certainly start peeling Republicans right off.

But you seem to essentially say that while Congressional Democrats COULD do it, they won't because they fear the political consequences too much. I obviously don't disagree with that because that is what I've been saying all along. You just seem to slip from "doesn't want to" to "can't" at weird moments.

Part of the problem is that you see the whole situation as static rather than dynamic. Even assuming that Bush is stupid enough to veto enough to actually cause the defunding of the entire US military (which I believe to be a rather ridiculous hypothetical), what incentive do Republican Senators have to go along with that plan? Then the veto gets overridden. Which is exactly what you want, right?

The problem is that of course if nothing ever changes, Democrats 'cannot' change anything. But this doesn't actually exist as a tautology. The question is how do you prep the change.

I think that the Democrats are the ones that have backed themselves into a corner. Senator Jack Reed having to tout his military credentials to deliver the rebuttal is evidence of that. Flyover America is not going to go for any of that immediate withdrawal stuff. Talk amongst yourselves.

I completely agree with SH on this one.

David wrote,

First, you may be referring to appropriations that do not mention Iraq at all in any way, but provide general funding for the army. I am not sure what you think will stop Bush from using those appropriations to continue the Iraq war (albeit in an underfunded fashion that causes harm to the troops that he will then blame on the Democrats)-- not sure why you think appropriations that do not mention Iraq will cause a "clean break" and complete withdrawal, rather than merely a generalized shortage of cash that necessitates widespread belt-tightening without forcing the President to cease one particular activity entirely.

If the armed forces were even funded at pre-Iraq levels, there's simply no way Bush could keep us in Iraq. Iraq is already pretty hard on the Army in particular.

Apart from the legalities, if the public sees Bush and Congress getting into some stupid dispute and the troops suffer as a result, a lot of people will be upset. I'll be upset, for example. And when the public gets real real upset, who's going to cave? Not Bush.

I'd blame Bush 100%. But maybe a lot of people would attribute it only 70% to Bush. A whole lot of people who didn't pay close attention would put at least 10% of the blame on democrats.

So maybe Bush leaves office with a 5% approval rating and a whole lot of people hate him. He hardly notices. And a whole lot of democrats in congress lose, say, 5% to 10% of their support. When they run for election they won't be running against republicans who were complicit in the massive corruption and senseless war of the last 2 presidential terms. They'll be running against reformers who offer to clean up.

And 5% is usually enough to lose an election.

So they're facing losing their seats and goin back to a republican majority, for actually getting involved in hurting the army and (probably) not getting it out of iraq anyway.

Maybe after the first fiasco they can impeach Bush. Joy. They perhaps impeach Bush and Cheney at the same time? Or Cheney first. Say it took 6 months for the first debacle to work out, and 6 months for the impeachment, and then president Pelosi or whoever can finally start the withdrawal. If that's the beginning of September 2008, we gain almost 4 months. It might come a bit earlier than that or rather later.

If I was a democratic member of the House I'd think it was right and proper to sacrifice my career and give the GOP 2 years of majority in the House in exchange for getting the troops out of iraq 4 months early. Assuming no more of them got killed during the dispute with Bush than would have in the extra 4 months. But I can understand actual legislators not looking at it that way.

Now, maybe a video that acts out this prophecy might help democrats with public opinion. If everybody sees this as the choice, then maybe Bush will publicly announce that if congress tells him to withdraw he'll withdraw.

Don't forget Bush's favorite, the signing statement. What will stop him to add one that says that he will follow the funding ban only so far as the troops are not endangered and to declare the money going into Iraq as not war funds but just "securing the security of our troops"?

J Thomas, you're assuming that helping the Republicans for the 2008 election doesn't include its own risk of killing still more troops -- for example, in a war in Iran. (Not that I'm necessarily endorsing the rest of your analysis.)

KOnDC, I don't know how to extrapolate out past 2008.

Imagine that in some scenario kind of like mine, people wind up disgusted with Bush and disgusted with their legislature. So most of the surviving Republican incumbents get voted out and most of the Democratic incumbents get voted out, and we wind up with a majority of new GOP guys in previously Democratic seats.

What would they do? Would they be for war with iran? They might have learned their lesson from iraq. Would they be for untrammelled corruption? Sure, but they ought to at least be quieter about it. Even after they win on a reform ticket they don't want to publicly uphold the Bush tradition. They'd be fresh faces and it isn't clear what they'd do.

Unless of course you can't get elected as a republican unless the guys who're pulling the strings have blackmail material on you. In that case I guess it would be business as usual.

I doubt Democratic legislators can look into the future that well either. But practically anybody in a legislator's seat can figure that the world will be a better place in 2 years or 5 years if they're still legislating instead of somebody else. If they didn't think they were better than the average congressional candidate they wouldn't bother.

I guess I'm less disgusted than publius because I really gave up on the leadership months ago, after the late May cave-in.

I've been down on the the cynicism of the purely electoral post-November 2006 strategy -- looking as if you want to get us out of Iraq rather than actually taking any action to do that -- since it first emerged. (Just as I seethed during the preceding two years at the Dems' strategy of declining to call for withdrawal until the deaths of U.S. troops did their political work for them.)

But I have to say that being unable even to follow through on the political implications of that cynical strategy is a new low for the worthless lot. There's no evidence that anything has changed in their political calculus since 2002.

Thanks to Chris Dodd and John Edwards for their efforts to rescue the brand: No timeline, no funding. No excuses.

Obama could make a real difference here (Clinton could too, but that's outside the realm of possibility). But he won't, so as to preserve that veep spot.

This isn't the first time Obama has been sandbagged by AP in this way, and both times he has opened the door to it by, as Katherine says, "going all meta" with the press in hearing distance. If he's as smart as they say, he ought to learn something from that.

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