Dem’s Post-Veto Stretegy

Bush Administration, Congress, Democratic Party

[Update: via email from John Kerry’s Senate office — Kerry will join Reid as a co-sponsor of Senator Feingold’s bill.]

The post-veto strategy is shaping up. Bob Geiger writes,

In anticipation of a Bush veto and the likelihood that they won’t be able to summon enough Republicans who care about the troops or public opinion sufficiently to override that veto, Senate Democrats are already rolling out a contingency plan that puts the GOP on notice about something very important: That they are going to be forced over and over again to be on the record as voting to strand our military men and women in the middle of a bloody civil war.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), long one of the gutsy leaders on the Democratic side of the Senate aisle, has announced that he will propose legislation immediately on return from this week’s break that will cut off all funding for the Iraq war in less than a year.

Upping the ante on another major showdown immediately following the expected Bush veto of the war-funding (and withdrawal) bill, is the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) supports the Feingold measure and has signed on as the bill’s first cosponsor.

On the other end of the wimp scale, Barack Obama believes the Senate will cave and pass a bill without the timeline because no one “wants to play chicken” over funding the troops.

“My expectation is that we will continue to try to ratchet up the pressure on the president to change course,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage.”

There are those who argue that would be a smart political move. I think they’re wrong; I think they’re misreading the public mood. I think a large majority of Americans would really like to see Congress stand up to Bush. On the other hand, the Dem political elite, long accustomed to caution and accommodation to the Right, are still tip-toeing. Jonathan Weisman writes in today’s Washington Post:

Leon E. Panetta, who was a top White House aide when President Bill Clinton pulled himself off the mat through repeated confrontations with Congress, sees the same risk. He urged Democrats to stick to their turf on such issues as immigration, health care and popular social programs, and to prove they can govern.

“That’s where their strength is,” Panetta said. “If they go into total confrontation mode on these other things, where they just pass bills and the president vetoes them, that’s a recipe for losing seats in the next election.”

Um, Mr. Panetta, that’s the same thinking that caused the Dems to get swamped in the 2002 midterm elections.

Republicans these days are full of helpful advice for the Dems.

Backed by a unified party and fresh from a slew of legislative victories, Democratic leaders appear to believe there is hardly any territory they cannot stray onto, a development that has Republican political operatives gleeful and some Democrats worried. Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, warned of a “political price” at the polls: “If they let their constituents and their ideology drive them past the point where the American people are comfortable, they will find how quickly the voters will react.” …

… Most Republicans are convinced the president will win his veto standoff over House and Senate war spending bills that would impose mandatory troop withdrawals from Iraq.

“It’s going to be like the government shutdowns” of 1995 and 1996, predicted Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). “The Democrats’ honeymoon is fixing to end. It’s going to explode like an IED.”

I don’t think the government shutdown episodes were anything like the potential standoff between Bush and Congress over Iraq. The shutdowns came out of a disagreement between Congress and President Clinton over the budget. At the time most Americans didn’t give a hoohaw about the budget. News reports were all about how much money was being wasted because of the shutdown and how citizens all over the country were being inconvenienced, including 2 million visitors turned away from closed national parks. Whatever principle Newt Gingrich was trying to stand on didn’t seem worth it to most folks.

Public reaction to the shutdown did explode on the Republicans like an IED, that’s true. But we’re looking at an entirely different set of facts here. In 1995, few Americans really understood (or cared) why Newt Gingrich was grandstanding over the budget. The Iraq War they understand — it’s a bleeping disaster. And they care about ending it with growing intensely. Read more about the false comparisons with the standoff episodes at Media Matters.

Back to the Weisman article in WaPo

Even as their confrontation with President Bush over Iraq escalates, emboldened congressional Democrats are challenging the White House on a range of issues — such as unionization of airport security workers and the loosening of presidential secrecy orders — with even more dramatic showdowns coming soon.

For his part, Bush, who also finds himself under assault for the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, the conduct of the Iraq war and alleged abuses in government surveillance by the FBI, is holding firm. Though he has vetoed only one piece of legislation since taking office, he has vowed to veto 16 bills that have passed either the House or the Senate in the three months since Democrats took control of Congress.

Bills such as?

A House-passed bill would require the government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries, highlighting what Democrats consider a shortcoming of the president’s landmark Medicare prescription drug law. Bush has promised a veto.

A Senate-approved measure would allow screeners at the Transportation Security Administration to unionize, prompting a veto threat. White House opposition to that in 2002 led to a legislative standoff over the creation of the Department of Homeland Security that proved devastating to Democrats, who were painted as soft on terrorism.

That’s not the whole story. When Bush decided to support creation of a Department of Homeland Security (a sudden flipflop) he inserted the anti-union provision into the bill as a “poison pill.” When Democrats balked at the bill because of the anti-union measure, Republicans hollered that the Dems were against a Department of Homeland Security (actually they had been pushing for it while Bush fought against it) and thus “soft on terrorism.” Most people who heard the Republican charge didn’t understand why the Dems were opposed to Bush’s version of a Department of Homeland Security.

A bill to ease the public release of official papers from presidential libraries also yielded a veto promise, although it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The measure would reverse one of Bush’s executive orders, which has helped keep reams of presidential documents under lock and key.

Budgets passed by the House and Senate assume the expiration of most of Bush’s tax cuts in 2012, and Democrats are demanding tough new standards for labor rights and environmental regulations as a condition of extending the president’s authority to expedite trade negotiations.

The White House has also vowed to block two separate House bills that would extend whistle-blower protections to national security and rail security workers.

My sense of the public mood — which I admit may be warped, since I live in one of the bluer blue states — is that a majority of Americans are leaning toward the Dem view on most of these issues. I don’t see how a Bush veto would hurt them politically one bit.

On the other hand, Dem attempts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and repeal the Patriot Act could still be politically dicey. The poll numbers I found on Gitmo and the PA were about a year old, and at the time approval-disapproval was at about fifty-fifty split.

Public education is critical. IMO the more the public knows about these issues, the more likely they will side with Democrats. The less they know, the more likely they will be taken in by Republicans.

Update: Russ Feingold writes “How Congress can end the war without hurting the troops” in Salon.

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  1. felicity  •  Apr 2, 2007 @1:36 pm

    I completely agree with you Maha. About the only thing Bush has going for him – which he has capitalized on ad nausea – is his Texas OK Corral image. Too many people see this image positively – why else the Giulianni broohaha. Dems, strangely enough, have a wimp image. Standing up to Bush is the way to go. Somebody said that image is everything while substance, in politicians particularly is beside the point as far as American voters are concerned.

  2. Donna  •  Apr 2, 2007 @3:53 pm

    Oh, to be a political cartoonist. Hmm, I can’t draw any better than I can carry a tune, though. I would love to see a Jib-Jab type cartoon series devoted to humorously educating the viewer about discerning what is ‘image’ and what is ‘substance’. Offer a bit of video news hype on George Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative which then pans to spewing smokestacks [with a bit of script giving a statistic or two?]; think of Bush’s Healthy Forest Initiative panning to clear-cut hillsides; think of the War on Terror statements panning to grieving Iraqi citizens; promises to Katrina victims panning to reality of the 9th ward…….you get the idea.
    Each segment could be presented with the question, “Which of the following is an ‘image’ of reality and which is ‘substance’ of reality?”

  3. wmr  •  Apr 2, 2007 @4:10 pm

    One big difference between 1995 and 2007 is the President’s popularity. Just look at the polls.

  4. biggerbox  •  Apr 2, 2007 @4:30 pm

    The majority of the public want something done about ending this war, and a substantial portion think the Democrats are being too nice to Shrub by giving him the money with as few restrictions as this. Despite the GOP Noise Machine, the people will see Bush’s veto as a temper tantrum, not an adult response to what the people want.

    I’m with Reid. The smart play is to make sure the President knows that this is his best chance, and it’ll only get harder from here. You should never let a petulant child know that throwing a tantrum is a way to get what he wants.

  5. D.R. Marvel  •  Apr 2, 2007 @6:08 pm

    President Pissypants is perpetually petulant…

  6. joanr16  •  Apr 2, 2007 @7:36 pm

    Not so long ago, Feingold was the lone voice in the wilderness, and now the senior Dem senators are all signing on to his ideas. Sweet. It’s a sign of good sense, not obstruction, to finally let the one guy with foresight take the lead.

    And if that Kingston person (who???) speaks for the Repugs, they’re not only living in the past, but in the fictional past.

  7. erinyes  •  Apr 2, 2007 @9:31 pm

    How right you are , Maha.
    I’m sick to death of hearing the term “cut funding for the troops”, damn it ,we want to de-fund the stinkin’ war party. Christ, they talk like we want to leave soldiers in eye-rak and not buy them bullets!
    I’m quite sure many soldiers on their 2nd or 3rd tour would rather be home, especially now that the WMD b.s. has been debunked, and that everyone with a brain realizes Bin Laden and Saddam were not buds.
    That Jack Kingston is a real piece of work, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits!

  8. sb  •  Apr 2, 2007 @10:22 pm

    I hope the Dems yell he is not supporting the troops if he vetoes. I also hope they add he didn’t support them when he made a budget without funding the troops in it too!

  9. Swami  •  Apr 2, 2007 @11:16 pm

    I agree that public education is critical… Yesterday I saw Dan Bartlett on This Week with George Stefenopolis(sp), and Bartlett was trying to support his bullshit by saying that the Baker-Hamilton commision had recommended a course of action that was currently being employed in Iraq by the Bush administration. What the uneducated missed among Bartlett’s bullshit was that the Baker-Hamilton specifically said was that their recommendations were not intended to be implemented in a pick and choose fashion. They proposed an entire package where every element was dependent upon the other for success and apart from one another they would be ineffectual. Had I not been educated to whats going on, I would have sworn Bush’s surge had the overwhelming endorsement of the Baker -Hamilton commission.
    I was surprised that Stefenopolis didn’t call Barlett out on his bullshit.

  10. ken melvin  •  Apr 3, 2007 @3:19 pm

    As Mandela said, “… he can’t think too good”.

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