This community has been so important to me, and so important to the causes we have championed together, that I didn’t want to stay quiet on such a critical day. I wanted to give you my direct thoughts about what is occurring today in the House concerning the Iraq supplemental funding.
Let me say up front that what happened today was the result of a Presidential veto and a Republican minority that doesn't care that the American people want to end this war. That's the context, as I see it. Now, let's talk about the specifics.
There are two issues here. The first deals with the process by which the bill is being handled, and the second deals with the content of the legislation itself.
Let's talk about process first, seeing as that has been receiving a great deal of attention. I've read that "we are watching the rise of the Dick Cheney Democrats" who "endorse governing in secret and hiding the public's business from the public itself."
Considering that today's vote on the rule was entirely public, I don’t see any way in which our work can be remotely compared to a man who prides himself on rejecting the people's right to know where he is or who he is meeting with.
But I don’t actually think that those who have made the comparison believe it at that level. They are angry at the content of our rule itself. So let's take a look at it.
First, the rule guarantees that a modified version of the McGovern redeployment bill that received 171 votes recently will be considered during the upcoming debate on the 2008 supplemental defense spending. In other words, we are guaranteed to have another chance to vote for rapid redeployment, no matter what happens.
This rule also contains two amendments from Rep. David Obey, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The first amendment contains all of the critical domestic spending that the Republicans and the President had derided as pork when it was brought up the first time. What we are talking about is an increase in the minimum wage, an increase in funding for military health care and veterans’ health care, and critically needed funding for agricultural disaster aid, children’s health care, and recovery from Hurricane Katrina, among other things. We are going to have a chance to pass all of it today.
The second amendment provides funding for the war as requested by the President, along with 18 voluntary benchmarks put in place by Senator Warner.
Both of the amendments discussed above will receive public debate and consideration on the House floor, and both will be voted on independently. All of those votes, obviously, will be public as well.
Now, the point of contention as I see it, and why Democrats are being accused of dishonesty here, is that by approving the rule, we allowed the funding bill to be debated - and because virtually all Republicans will vote for it (along with some Democrats), it will pass. People are therefore saying that it doesn't matter if we vote against the supplemental spending amendment (which many of us will). All that matters is that we allowed it to be considered to begin with.
What people wanted was for us to kill that amendment entirely. Specifically, they wanted the Rules Committee, which I chair, to shut it out.
So now, we are getting back to the real matter here - whether the Democrats should allow the House to consider legislation that funds the war without timelines and without mandatory benchmarks.
Considering I voted against the war authorization in 2002 (as did a majority of Democrats) and seeing as we have been the party that has opposed the war since its beginning, I hope that you will believe me when I say that I and my Democratic colleagues view this war as a tragic mistake that must come to an end.
The first opportunity we had to end it after November came with this bill. Our first version conditioned any future support for the conflict upon proof that our efforts there were bearing some fruit, and it would have ended the war by August, 2008 at the very latest. After the Senate weighed in, we sent the President a stronger bill that would have ended the war by March, 2008.
As you know, President Bush vetoed it. What is more, the Republicans in this Congress willfully and deliberately ignored public opinion and supported that veto. They made it impossible for us to overturn it. They kept this war going between 2003 and 2006, and they kept it going again with that vote.
As such, we had a choice. We could send Mr. Bush the same bill, or allow something to pass that wouldn't be vetoed. And we elected to let something pass - to let Republicans, if they so choose, fund their own war.
Considering that 90% of the Out of Iraq Caucus was with us in this decision, there must have been at least some reason for it. In fact, there are two in my opinion. With this White House, and with this Republican minority, it is safe to say that a standoff with the Administration would have meant that our troops would be left in harm's way, only now with even less funding to back them up. I don’t think that would have been right to do - to make them do even more with even less. The President doesn't seem to care how much our troops suffer. All evidence indicates that he will make them fight if they have needed funding or not.
Secondly, a standoff would have allowed the President to keep using our soldiers as pawns, accusing Democrats of abandoning them while it is really his war that has left them to fend for themselves.
There is one way to stop this war, and that is to force Republicans to stop ignoring their own constituents. 70 percent of the public wants a change of course in Iraq, but not enough voters in Republican districts are willing to force their Representatives and Senators to vote that way. If two-thirds of the American people want to bring this war to a close, then two-thirds of the Congress should too. Democrats need to work with the overwhelming majority of the American people to make that happen.
I'm hoping that today's vote won't break that link between us and you - because we will only succeed if we work together.
I'm looking forward to your comments on this. I understand your frustration and anger at the situation we have all been placed in, and I promise you I share it.
Today, we did the only thing we felt that we could responsibly do. Tomorrow, with the help of this community, what isn't possible now will be well within our grasp.
In continuing solidarity,
I just want to stress the point that the vote on the actual Iraq spending amendment will only pass (if it does) because of Republican votes. It is going to face strong opposition from many, many Democrats - we'll see how many soon, and all the votes will be made available. With the Congress divided the way it is, our only other choice was to present nothing. We have to make Republicans in Congress respect the will of the people. We need 60 Republicans in the House. 11 recently went to the White House to criticize the President's conduct. Others are on the fence. Our pressure is changing the composition of the House on this issue.
I wanted to thank the overwhelming number of people who have commented for doing so. I'm reading them all (even the one that said I only responded to my constituent.) I didn't post today because it was going to be pleasant. I posted today because I care about what this community has to say.