Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tightening the purse strings on Iraq funding

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

This is somewhat of a reply or a supplement to BarbinMD’s front page post regarding the non-binding resolution that the Democrats are introducing on Iraq. Actually, I have been thinking about this for a few days now, and there have been a number of comments made in my diaries that touch on this very subject.

As SusanG and the good folks at Thinkprogress pointed out (not that SusanG isn’t good folk as I am sure she is one of the “goodest folks around”...), there is precedent for Congress to provide legislative oversight of the military. And while that is very good ammunition to have in our pockets, I think that in this day and age of signing statements, and with Bush willing to give the finger to around 85% of the population as well as his own generals and Joint Chiefs of Staff with respect to escalating this occupation further, more drastic rhetoric and actions are not only warranted, but mandated.

This occupation has already cost We the People nearly $400 Billion. And as noted in the link above, this number is likely a gross underestimation:

Please note that the Department of Defense was also permitted by legislation to transfer funds from other operations (peacetime, Afghanistan, etc.) to the Iraq War, and so estimating war costs based on Congressional legislation is not enough.

On top of that, the Center for Defense Information reports that theCRS (Congressional Research Service) CBO, the GAO and the DOD all have different numbers as far as cost estimates as well. Although, there was one overriding consensus:
These differences notwithstanding, CRS, CBO, and GAO did agree on one thing: DOD’s data on the costs of the wars cannot be trusted.

What is more disgusting than the sheer numbers is that, with two exceptions, all of this funding has been through supplemental spending bills, or emergency supplemental fundings - so it doesn’t even count in the budget numbers. This has to stop, although sadly, there is going to be ANOTHER $100 billion requested, and likely approved over the next month. That brings the total to well over $500 billion.

500 billion dollars. For what? To bring chaos, death, destruction, civil war, genocide, the use of more chemical weapons, torture to the Middle East? And no definitive goals, no discussion of a way out and a world that is a whole lot LESS SAFE from terrorism. Heckuva job, Bush.

So here we are with symbolic votes that don’t mean anything, and a budget deficit that is more than out of control, with nothing going towards the US infrastructure or true Homeland Security like protecting our ports, airplane cargo holds, railways, power plants, electrical grids, food supplies and a slew of other major initiatives like rebuilding our roads, strengthening our school systems, protecting the environment.....and well, you know the rest.

Congress has but one weapon in their arsenal (other than impeachment). And it is time that they not only talk about using it, but use it.. That weapon is funding. Yes, there is discretion as to how funds can be moved from other areas of the budget (as noted above) for Iraq. However, with it being long past time to ratchet up the plans for an exit strategy, the Democrats can accomplish more than one thing by taking a strong stand here.

Step One: Limit Iraq spending to the regular budget process ONLY

For starters, by limiting the Iraq spending to the normal budget process only will allow the Democrats to show that they are concerned with fiscal restraint. I’ll say that one again, because this can plant the seeds of the Democratic Party being the ones that are concerned with the budget.

By limiting the Iraq funding to the normal budget process ONLY, they can show that they are the ones that are serious about keeping the deficits from running out of control. They can show FOR YEARS TO COME that they are the party of fiscal restraint. Yes, we can show how the budgets were under Clinton, Reagan and Bush. But the public still thinks of “tax and spend Democrats”. This can change that opinion.

Of course, this also shows that there can be no more “fuzzy math” when it comes to this ass-backwards occupation. And while this is a first step, it is necessary in my mind to do this first for reasons that I will get into below. But it will set the stage for “selling to the public” the fact that a cut in funding for Iraq is NOT a lack of support for the troops. And you know that this will be the right wing frame – whether we like it or not, whether it is true or not. So we have to think like them in terms of selling the policy, in addition to setting the policy (something that the left is hardly good at).

Step Two: Limit Iraq funding to specific, yet broad enough items

What I mean here is twofold. First, start to talk about funding this occupation in terms of getting our troops out and towards an international humanitarian and rebuilding effort (read: not only Halliburton and US firms) to truly have a “new way forward”. The Democrats’ efforts this past week is a good start – talk about NOT funding anything for more troops. If they actually do something about it, then I will be impressed. But until then, I will reserve judgment.

Then – actually have a concrete plan for an exit strategy. As we all know, the Iraq Study Group had theirs. The AEI had theirs (sort of, if you mean that stay forever is an exit strategy). The Democrats should have theirs. Funding should address things such as:

- How do we get our troops out safely?

- How do we bring the surrounding countries into this effort to ensure our troops are redeployed safely?

- What should be done about the thousands of Iraqi refugees that are fleeing the country daily?

- How do we (we not only being the US) stop the genocide from spreading to other countries?

- What can be done to stop or slow the civil war?

- How do al-Sadr’s militia and the other militias be dealt with, while also not disenfranchising Shiites or Sunnis from the political process?

- How and who will deal with various aspects of rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure?

And there are so many more questions that should be addressed, but as it stands now, NONE of these are even being considered. Anywhere.

This will obviously be tough to discuss, and tough to “sell”. But it must be done. The American public elected the Democrats, largely because of the disaffection with the way that the occupation is going. Bush’s approval rating on Iraq is at an all time low of 26%. Tonight’s speech will more likely have a negative impact on his ratings than a positive one (for him at least).

It is time to talk about the real next steps. How to extricate our troops. How to control the genocide. How to rebuild Iraq. And since Bush is only listening to the PNAC AEI, then the Democrats need to do the only thing they can do – restrict funding only to efforts that will move this occupation towards an end.

It won’t be easy. Many votes may be symbolic. But we all know that there are Democrats that LOVE to talk. Let’s see them talk about the right things now. Let’s see them talk about changing the course in Iraq. Let’s see them talk about allocating funds for an exit strategy. Hell, let’s see them even talk about an exit strategy.

It’s all they have at their disposal. And it is the biggest reason why they were elected in November.

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