After years of blindly following George Bush into an illegal, insane and unjustified War, the House of Representatives voted 218-212 on March 23rd to use the power of the purse to get us out of Iraq – by tying the funds to an actual deadline. The real heroes of this fight are progressives like Barbara Lee – who tirelessly pushed to get us out of this quagmire when it was not the popular thing to do.
But despite the heat that she gets from the Left, Speaker Nancy Pelosi also deserves credit – for getting the House to pass a bill that finally puts light at the end of the tunnel. The vote shows how much Democrats in Congress have awaken to reality, as only a handful of conservatives opposed it – and not a single freshman did. While the bill faces a tough battle in the Senate and a certain presidential veto, anti-war activists must understand the seismic shift that has occurred. This was not a pathetic “non-binding” resolution – it’s the real deal.
Many in the anti-war movement have condemned the vote because it “funds the War” for another year, when we should have left long ago. That’s true – the bill appropriates $100 billion to the Defense Department. But it also requires the President to start pulling out our troops next spring, and have us completely out by August 31, 2008. If the Iraqi government fails to meet certain benchmarks, withdrawal will happen sooner.
It’s also true that the bill doesn’t restrict the President’s authority to invade Iran, as Pelosi removed language after AIPAC put a lot of pressure. But the House will get to vote on a separate resolution dealing with Iran soon. The bill was still important to pass because it sets an actual deadline to get out of Iraq – and the importance of getting something out of the House with that basic principle was paramount.
It’s a fact that anti-war members who had serious concerns with the bill finally realized. Seven progressives – including Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters – voted “no” as a matter of principle, because they have always opposed the War and any of its funding. But they cut a deal with Pelosi not to organize to kill it – as failure to pass the bill would hurt the anti-war movement more than help it. Now their clout in Congress has been indisputably enhanced, as the Democratic Caucus gave them a standing ovation after the bill passed the House.
Incredibly, some anti-war activists like Cindy Sheehan have accused MoveOn of “selling out” for supporting the legislation – although the online organization clearly wants us out of Iraq. MoveOn understood the symbolic importance of getting a bill that calls for a deadline to pass the House. While they could have pushed for a stronger bill that would not have passed, its failure would have sent the message that even a Democratic Congress can’t tell George Bush to end the War.
The fact that the House passed this bill – with seven progressives refusing to vote “yes” – is truly remarkable. As I mentioned earlier, Democrats may have a majority, but enough Blue Dogs are so conservative that they might as well be Republicans. Six Democrats voted “no” – Dan Boren of Oklahoma, John Barrow and Jim Marshall of Georgia, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, Jim Matheson of Utah and Gene Taylor of Mississippi – because they oppose any deadline to get us out of Iraq. There was no pleasing these people, and Pelosi wisely did not compromise any further in the hope of getting their vote.
But the Democratic Party is changing – for the better. Not a single freshman Democrat in the House voted against the bill, completely disproving the lie that Democrats took back Congress in 2006 because they ran more “conservative” candidates. These new Democrats understand why they got elected, as most of them would not be in Congress today without the public clamoring to end the War.
Even in the red states, the American people now oppose the War in Iraq and expect Congress to pass legislation that mandates withdrawal. Despite six Blue Dogs voting against it, even more Democrats from conservative districts voted for it – like Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, Chet Edwards of Texas and Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota. The fact that these Democrats were willing to end the War despite who they represent puts the Blue Dogs who opposed it to shame.
Now the bill must pass the Senate – where the odds will be much tougher. Democrats “control” the Senate by a two-vote majority, but that includes delusional neo-cons like Joe Lieberman. On March 15, the Senate failed 48-50 to pass a resolution that mandates withdrawal – because Lieberman and two Democrats voted “no.” Now that the House has passed the budget supplemental, the Senate will vote again and patriotic Americans must lobby them to do the right thing.
Four Republican Senators who represent blue states and are up for re-election in 2008 must be targeted – Gordon Smith of Oregon, Susan Collins of Maine, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Only Smith crossed party lines on March 15 to vote for the withdrawal resolution. If the other three don’t switch their votes and support the budget supplemental, we will know who to blame when the next election comes around – and they will pay a heavy price.
Even if it passes the Senate, George Bush has promised to veto the bill. Which is fine, because he’s a lame duck and no one cares what he thinks anymore. The point is that Democrats have coalesced behind legislation that sets a deadline to get out of Iraq, and have already passed it out of one house of Congress. The only question for Republicans now is whether they’re going to let the President take them down with him – as the American people demand that we bring our troops home.
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