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David Swanson: Veto This

Veto This

By David Swanson

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is right to point Unitary Executive George W. Bush toward a copy of the Constitution. The President (should Bush care to resume that legal role) is permitted to veto bills but not to write them. In particular, the President cannot rewrite legislation after it has been voted on and before he signs it. Nor can any member of Congress.

Bush's longstanding habit, of course, has been to rewrite laws after he signs them, by the use of "signing statements." This is also completely unconstitutional. And it is, I think, his most likely course of action with the "supplemental" war bill – assuming the Democrats don't weaken it. He wants the money without delay, and he knows the Democrats and the media will avert their eyes from any signing statement. However, he does not want the media to report that he signed a bill containing a withdrawal deadline – even an unenforceable one. So, he may veto as promised.

Bush is accusing the Democrats in Congress of "defunding the troops", while with much more accuracy the peace movement is complaining that the Democrats have not used the power of the purse to force a rapid withdrawal. Meanwhile, the Democrats are preparing to point their fingers at Bush the instant he vetoes the supplemental and shout "You're the one defunding the troops."

It would be hard to find a more glaring example of buying into your opponent's terms of debate to your own disadvantage. The Pentagon is rolling in money. The only way to protect the troops is to bring them home. Bush's crime is not the mythical nonsensical sin of "defunding the troops," but rather that of launching and continuing a fraudulent, illegal, aggressive war on and occupation of a foreign nation. Forget the funding the troops nonsense; Bush needs to stop KILLING the troops and using them to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Last November's elections were dominated by a demand to end the war, not to dump more money into it.

But the Democrats have not passed a bill that would cut off the money and force Bush to end the war, even if he signed the bill into law. Instead they've passed a bill aimed at allowing them to announce that his veto "defunds the troops." Rather than perpetuating the myth that wars are fought on behalf of the kids sent to kill and die and be injured, the Democrats should respond to a veto by announcing that Bush has refused to continue the war on the terms set by Congress, so Bush will just have to end the war. At least, that's what the Democrats should do if their aim is to change policy and achieve peace. If their aim is just to make Bush look bad on his own terms, then I guess they should accuse him of "defunding the troops." But they should be aware that this will just lock them in more firmly to a commitment to keep "funding the troops" forever.

Pat Buchanan thinks the Republican plan in all of this is for Bush to veto the bill, for Pelosi to propose a new bill that is just what Bush wants, and for that bill to pass with the support of all the Republicans and half the Democrats, thus splitting the Democrats and funding the war with no strings attached. Pelosi and her close colleagues have already indicated that this is the course they'll take. In making that threat to their fellow Democrats, they may have unwittingly made a promise to Bush and the Republicans.

But why must Pelosi always play into Republican plans? Why can't Pelosi refuse to take the bill Bush wants to the floor? Why can't she take one that more Democrats want?

If Pelosi pushes Bush's bill, the peace movement must demand opposition of course. And if that splits the Democrats, well, a half a party for peace is better than none at all.

If Pelosi were smart, she would push a bill that dropped the extra items that are so easily ridiculed: the spinach, peanuts, etc, and dropped the toothless limitations that Bush opposes as micromanagement; and moved up the exit date and used the power of the purse to enforce it.

If Bush turns his back on this pile of money with a veto, the Congress should make clear that he may have missed his only chance at it. And he should be given no war money as part of the regular budget while this is being worked out. If Congress gives Bush a second chance, it does not have to be one he prefers. It can be one that makes clear the terms are going to become less and less favorable to him with each redrafting.

The beauty of this situation is that a bill to end the war can fail in Congress and thereby end the war, or be vetoed and thereby end the war. If we bear in mind that the Pentagon regularly "misplaces" more than enough money to pay for a safe and orderly and rapid withdrawal of all troops and mercenaries, and that the only way to support the troops starts by bringing them home, then a defeat is not possible once Pelosi gets behind a real bill for peace.


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