Withdrawal Not Required in Iraq Funding Bill
Withdrawal Not Required in Iraq Funding Bill
By Maya Schenwar
t r u t h o u t | Report
The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday night that aims for a major withdrawal of troops from Iraq by next December, but that promise rides on the back of a $50 billion check to continue war operations. Moreover, the plan sets December 2008 as a "goal" for redeployment, instead of establishing it as a firm deadline.
"The president asked for $200 billion, some want to give a bridge fund of $50 billion," said Congressman John Lewis, one of the few Democrats who did not vote for the bill. "I'm not for giving 50 billion, 75 billion, 100 billion. There [are] already billions of dollars in the pipeline. That money needs to be directed to ending the war and bringing the troops home."
With $471 billion already in the baseline defense budget - more than enough to fund a withdrawal of all combat troops, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates in September - the extra $50 billion could sustain the administration's steady flow of cash toward war, even as redeployment begins.
"On one hand, the bill is a clear policy statement supporting quicker troop withdrawal," said Jeff Leys, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. "On the other hand, it would allow troops to stay in Iraq and continue all the operations they're doing now; there would just be fewer troops doing them."
The bill passed Wednesday would maintain a "limited presence" of troops in Iraq beyond the December 2008 goal date. Those troops would conduct "targeted counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and other terrorist organizations in Iraq."
Since "terrorist organization" is not defined in the bill, the administration could determine the targets of future combat operations, according to Leys.
In August, the Bush administration declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and last week, President Bush applied the same label to the Kurdistan Workers Party.
In a statement issued after signing the general defense budget bill on Tuesday, President Bush emphasized the broad extent of his executive power of interpretation, noting that he would disregard any sections of the bill that "might be construed to be inconsistent with [his] Constitutional responsibilities" as commander in chief.
Specifically, Bush rejected Congress's authority to place limits on transfers of funding from one area of defense activities to another, e.g. from domestic operations to international operations. He also dismissed a provision that prohibits the president from initiating a new defense project unless it is vital to "the interest of national security," and requires that he notify Congress before beginning a new project. The president's dismissal of this clause may permit him to use existing funds to finance an attack outside of Iraq or Afghanistan.
Although Bush has already announced that he will veto the Democrats' new bill, the provisions of his defense budget signing statement indicate that, even if the legislation were enacted, he could use the $50 billion to continue funding war without a deadline.
However, Democratic leadership promoted the bill as a reversal of Bush's course in Iraq. John Murtha, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and a cosponsor of the bill, called it a "real change" that would allow "our troops to come home."
Since the bill provides $50 billion instead of the administration's proposed $200 billion and includes a goal of redeployment, it prompts a shift in war policy, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"It provides the tools to our troops so that they can get their jobs done with the greatest respect for that job," Pelosi said on the House floor Wednesday night. "But it also presents a strategy that will bring them home responsibly, honorably, safely and soon."
Although the vast majority of Democrats voted for the bill, some of Congress's most adamantly antiwar members remained undecided until the last minute, wary of approving another chunk of funding. Pelosi spoke with a group of progressives on Wednesday afternoon, urging them to get behind the legislation, according to a Wednesday night report in The Hill.
Many progressive members eventually came around. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, a member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, framed her decision as a step toward finding a common ground among members against the war.
"[The bill] is intended to get the whole Congress on the record, not just those of us who would right now vote for no funding," Jackson-Lee said. "It is important to get the whole Congress to say: Mr. President, we demand you bring the troops home, and you must certify that you [are] moving towards a December 2008 withdrawal."
In a joint statement, Out of Iraq Caucus members Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey referred to the legislation as "not perfect," but said they could not reject a bill that favored redeployment - especially if it might stand a chance of passage in the other chamber.
"While we remain disappointed by the end date being a goal no later than December 2008, we see this as legislation that the Senate can and should pass," they said.
However, not only will the bill face nays from an overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans, its vague timetable and hefty funding load may also keep a few Democrats from voting yes.
"The Iraq spending bill passed by the House is too weak and doesn't require the timely redeployment of our troops from Iraq," said Senator Russ Feingold Thursday on the Senate floor. "If the Senate does not strengthen the bill, I will oppose it. The American people want more than a 'goal' of redeploying troops."
Regardless of what the Senate decides, Bush's veto threat holds firm, according to Dana Perino, the president's press secretary. The administration will not be swayed by Congress's attempts to "punish the president," Perino said yesterday at a press conference.
Even if the bill falls flat - as many in the Senate predict it will, since a veto override is unlikely - it will still have served the Democratic leadership's strategic purposes, according to Leys.
"It allows Pelosi, [Dave] Obey and [John] Murtha to say that Bush is not providing funding for troops, once he vetoes the bill," Leys said. "It also gets the Republicans on record saying they would not support a troop withdrawal. The bill is a political move."
Maya Schenwar is a reporter for Truthout.org.