The next couple of weeks will see a lot of political posturing, chest-thumping by The Decider, a lot of bloviating by self-important “experts”, much finger pointing, accusations by both Democrats and republicans about who is or is not supporting the troops and comparisons to the 1995 government standoff between Clinton and the new republican Congress.
I see two roads here – and up until the other night, I really thought there would be one road. Either road could get very interesting and could play out real well, or real poorly for our troops and our newly elected majority in Congress. The two roads? A Bush veto and a Bush non-veto with signing statement (hat tip to Ben Masel for convincing me that a Bush veto is not necessarily a foregone conclusion). For purposes of this diary, I will assume that the withdrawal timeline stays in the final bill.
There are also two other things in play here that shouldn’t go unaddressed. First, there is the “pork element” of the bill – much of this was included when the “do-nothing” republican Congress punted nine spending bills in the last days of their session. I haven’t gone through this supplemental bill in detail, but some around here have mentioned that a lot of the “pork” is from these bills that were punted. Needless to say, this should be a main talking point to counter the “this bill includes money for peanut storage” meme and should not get lost in the debate.
The other thing at issue here is that these are funds that are not included in the overall budget process and thereby paints an artificially rosy picture of the Bush budgets. Yes, this has been done for the past few years and it is not the Democratic Congress’ fault. But it is another thing that should make its way into the discourse about the funding. If Bush isn’t even honest enough to fund his own war in the general budget, then how serious is he about getting the troops what they need?
Anyway, I digress….
Back to the bill. I’ll pick the easier road first. Let’s say that there is sufficient pressure on Bush and he ultimately decides not to veto and to take the money. You can bet that he would just issue another of his hundreds of signing statements indicating that he will interpret the withdrawal deadline as he sees fit (read: ignore it outright). This would actually be the best case scenario for the troops and the Democrats, and We the People for that matter.
Why? Because I am betting that around 85%+ of the population in the US haven’t even heard of a signing statement – let alone how many hundreds of laws he has disregarded – even as he is signing them amid much pomp. This country will soon find out what John Dean has been saying for quite some time now. The country will find out in a “smack in the face” manner – that Bush not only has used this to nullify hundreds of laws that appeared to get his “Decider™ Seal of Approval” but that he is willing to do it in a way that will go against what the troops want, what Congress wants regarding the continued occupation of Iraq, and more importantly what most of America wants.
A signing statement here will be political suicide – it could be the one that wakes America up to the fact that there is a madman who will stop at nothing to keep his power and “get his way”, and could either send republicans to scatter like rats off the sinking ship that is USS Dubya (even more than they are now) or it could lead to veto proof majorities come 2008.
The veto route is more interesting, because it pits Bush against Congress – including Congressional republicans. Judging by the latest “comparison to something completely irrelevant”, you would think that this would be akin to the government shutdown of 1995. Except that is isn’t even close. There will be no shutdown of the government. There will be no issue of people not getting paid. There will be no issue of parks closing, of social security checks maybe not going out. Oh yeah, Clinton was a great politician – Bush….not so much.
If Bush vetoes, then Congress has a few options here – most of which would be good for the Democrats and the troops.
Option 1 – pass the same bill again
They can re-pass the same bill and have him veto it again (or have McConnell lead a filibuster effort). This would be the start of a real game of chicken, and regardless of whether the Democrats are in the right, I don’t know that enough of them are willing to do this and risk the onslaught of “leaving our troops in the field with no equipment” that they will be subjected to. Right, wrong or other, this is the same battle that they just went through to get the House bill passed. Personally, I don’t know that this is the most likely outcome.
Option 2 – pass a clean bill AND a timeline/readiness bill
They can also pass a “clean” bill in conjunction with another binding bill regarding readiness, real strict benchmarks and a withdrawal timeline. This would be two separate bills, and I would only be in support of this if the funding came after the other bill was passed. This would involve a lot of political maneuvering, and could incorporate parts of Murtha’s bill, the Webb/Hagel language and some language from the current bills that passed the House and Senate.<.p>
I am not sure that this would work, even though there would be two clean bills. Clearly Bush would veto the timeline/readiness bill and he would get his funding, so this would be nothing more than a political statement to get everyone on record as far as timelines (already done) and readiness. This is my least favorite option.
Option 3 – pass a more restrictive bill
This one I don’t see happening right now. As much as I would like to, and as much as the Democrats may have the public on their side, I don’t know if they would even have the votes to pass this. There is the “we have Bush’s nuts in a sling, so we should keep squeezing” aspect of it, but the issue of not funding our troops (as indicated in Option 1) would still be here, and may be too much for some at this point.
Option 4 – pass a bill to fund over a shorter period of time
This one – as spelled out so nicely yesterday by Geekesque is actually one that I think has the best chance. Hell, this could be a “clean” bill initially (for 3 months?) and Bush can’t whine about not supporting the troops. Then, Option 2 can kick in, and elements of the Murtha bill, the Webb/Hagel amendment and other language (Iraqi benchmark provisions that are already not being met) can be made into a bill that will not fund the troops without these provisions being met. Of course, this “2nd bill” would have to have teeth – binding, strict and no future funding unless these criteria are met.
This one may be the best chance of accomplishing the overall goal of getting our troops out in a reasonable manner, funding them while they are there, squeezing Bush enough to make anything else not even feasible for him (remember, even if he is a stubborn prick, there is the little matter of Saudi Arabia telling him to go scratch) and making this palatable to the American people.
Remember – America wants us out of Iraq. But they don’t want a careless and precipitous withdrawal either. Polls show that they want troops out by early 2008. Not, as much as we want them out earlier, by mid 2007. In two short months, the Democrats in Congress have drastically shifted the playing field regarding Iraq. You can’t turn around a ship this size (especially one as damaged as this one) immediately. But major (even though we may not think so) things have happened.
The debate has shifted to “when are we getting out” from “how much more will we throw into Iraq”. Bills in Congress reflect withdrawal timelines – VETO THREAT OR NOT. These are big victories – not even close to the biggest victory, and too little for many.
But as one of our fellow kossack’s handle suggests, you can only eat an elephant “one bite at a time”.