Next Steps

Now that the House and the Senate have passed emergency appropriations bills to fund the war in Iraq, the next step is for members of the House and Senate to come up with a compromise bill. It is hoped a compromise bill can be agreed upon and passed during the week of April 16. Then it goes to President Bush, who has sworn loudly and stridently that he will veto it.

Let’s assume the compromise bill goes to Bush in April, and he vetoes it. There aren’t enough Dems to override the veto. I’ve heard suggestions that Congress should then pass whatever bill Bush wants, which sends a signal that this is Bush’s War. He and the Republicans own it, and whatever happens is entirely their doing. However, this also might send the signal that the Dems are caving in once again, mightn’t it?

Others want to keep sending Bush bills with conditions, perhaps passing monthlong spending bills (Rep. Murtha’s suggestion) in the meantime so Bush can’t say Congress isn’t funding the troops. Well, he’ll say it anyway, but who’s listening to the little creep at this point?

The talking point du jour from the Right seems to be that “pork” in the supplement bill somehow harms the troops. Exactly why the domestic spending items in the bill takes anything away from the troops is not clear, since both House and Senate bills provide every penny Bush asked for to fund his war. The House bill provides more money than Bush asked for, actually. The Republicans appear to claiming that the domestic items are monies taken away from the Pentagon’s request, but that’s not so.

Yes, pork is pork. An op ed in today’s New York Times by Thomas Schatz, “Pork Goes to War,” provides a chart listing the porcine items in the House and Senate supplement bills. He notes that emergency supplement bills are called “Christmas trees” because, as they are exempt from budget rules, they tend to get decorated with “ornaments.”

(Schatz, btw, is the President of Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit that appears to be a corporate front group. CAGW has campaigned on behalf of the tobacco industry and in favor of Microsoft and against open source software, for example.)

On the other hand, some senators yesterday tried to make the point that a congressional emergency supplement bill can rightfully contain funds for anything that Congress thinks is an emergency. One cannot tell from Mr. Schatz’s chart if the items are true emergencies or not. Yes, $20 million in the Senate bill for “Mormon cricket eradication” does sound suspicious, but Nevada may be suffering a deadly plague of Mormon crickets, for all I know.

Schatz’s chart does clear up the Great Spinach Mystery. Yesterday a Republican senator insisted on taking the time for a roll call vote on stripping all mention of spinach out of the Senate Bill. Sen. Patty Murray explained, somewhat tensely, that there was no spinach in the bill, so such a vote wouldn’t change anything. Sen. Harry Reid asked if they could skip the roll call if the Dems all promised to vote for the amendment. The Republican wouldn’t budge, and a roll call was taken to make the world safe from spinach. I see now that the House bill contains $25 million for spinach growers in California. (I suspect that has something to do with the e coli bacteria found in some packaged spinach last September. )

Back to what to do about the veto — I’d consider sending Bush the bill he wants with a great big warning that Congress will accept no more emergency appropriations requests for Iraq. If you want money for Iraq, Mr. President, from now on you have to go through regular appropriations procedures. After four years the dadblamed war ain’t an “emergency.”

Linda Bilmes explained in Nieman Watchdog
last September:

The money already spent, in cash terms, is more than $400 billion. This has been approved through a series of “emergency supplemental” requests by the Administration. This is a technical but really important point: Normally, the Defense Department requests money through the traditional channels, which means that it gets vetted and analyzed by the Office of Management and Budget and the congressional committees. But for Iraq, there has been what I call an “accounting conspiracy” — all the money has been requested through 13 emergency supplemental requests which receive minimal scrutiny. This has resulted in a lot of fraud, corruption, overpayments to contractors like Halliburton, etc.

The legal purpose of the emergency supplemental is supposed to be an actual unexpected emergency, like Hurricane Katrina. By contrast, the administration has known for the past 3 years about its approximate financial needs for Iraq. It just chooses to fund the war this way so it does not need to request – nor does Congress need to vote – on the huge sums involved. Instead, Congress can vote on bite-sized chunks that don’t attract much attention.

I think it’s way past time for Congress to make a big bleeping deal out of the “emergency” appropriation funding. Bush wants to talk pork? Let’s talk about Bush’s piss-poor money management. He fancies himself the “CEO President”; a real CEO who played budget games like that would face some pretty wrathful shareholders, not to mention the SEC if Bush were using accounting tricks to cover it up.

18 thoughts on “Next Steps

  1. Thanks, Maha. I always wondered what an emergency supplemental was in regards to Iraq – which you so correctly pointed out is hardly an emergency unless there’s such a thing as a four- year- long emergency. BUT, I have to ask why Congress has allowed the sham/scam to continue. with nary a question even. On the other hand, it is a handy depository for Congress’s beloved pork.

  2. Is there any way to predict which option would be hardest for our idiot media to get wrong? The real battle will be for the headlines and the talking heads.

  3. They should call it peanuts instead of pork. The 25 million bucks for spinach farmers when compared to Iraqi spending translates to less than an hours expenditure. If they’re so concerned with pinching pennies maybe they should get on the trail of that 8 billion dollars that went missing in Iraq.

  4. This “CEO President” crap really points out that we should be taking a very hard look at how businesses are run. Bush is being a terrible CEO, but that level of ham-fisted incompetence and malfeasance is not unknown in the corporate corridors of power.

    I’ve always thought the “government should be run like a business!!1!!1” trope was dumb.

  5. I still say congress should issue a take it or leave it statement. If Bush doesn’t accept the bill he is sent, there will be no other. When he runs out of money he can bring the troops home

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  7. I favor the idea of trying to overturn the veto, (which won’t happen) then after due deliberation, sending exactly the same bill back, with the message that Congress, as a co-equal branch is willing to discuss (not negotiate) mutually acceptable terms (if exactly the same bill is not acceptable). When the President agrees to have his people talk, the meeting should NOT be at the White House. This is hardball; the administration wants what only Congress can provide; so make the administration take the hike with hat in hand.

    Regarding the media war, Democrats have to make it clear at every turn that they will provide every dime the troops need, but there WILL be restrictions. terms, constraints. As you mentioned, Barbara, Congress could allocate a montly stipend, with no promise that it would be renewed in 30 days.

  8. Congress has gotten away with this sham/scam for the past two-three years because Congress was controlled by the republicans. The dems have been screaming about this for the past two years, pointing out that Bush was trying to hide his war by not putting the money for it in the full budget.

    The ‘pork’ that the repubs are screaming about now are for true emergencies – farmers across the country have suffered losses due to extreme weather conditions (including but not limited to Katrina). The Republicans in Congress like to talk about being patriotic – how about helping out our own? I guess if we’re not spending our money overseas for Bush’s war, we are Unamerican!

    I didn’t see anything in the emergency supplemental that looked remotely like the ‘bridge to nowhere’!

  9. If the bill doesn’t have a prayer of becoming law how is having a “pork” project added a benefit to a Congressman? I mean seriously, how stupid do you have to be to make your support contingent upon the inclusion of some preferred funding that will never occur because of the bill’s sure veto? How stupid are the Democratic leaders that they can’t successfully explain the idiocy of such demands and rebuff them?

    To steal Atrios’ phrase, we are truly ruled by morons, even on our side…

  10. Politically, we should give GeeDub the spending bill he wants and keep our hands off the war, but morally we should question each and every day of continued occupation with the concomitant carnage mayhem and chaos that we are inflicting on the region and ourselves.

    See former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) statement about his “suspicions” that neither party’s candidates are actually going to get us out. I didn’t know he read Daniel Ellsberg’s famously leaked Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record.

  11. The American public has the Democrats’ back on this one, including about what the critics want to dismiss as ‘pork’. Mostly, the extra domestic funding is not ‘bridge to nowhere’ pork, but rather is funding for other emergency situations.

    Temper-tandrum Bush is being taught a lesson, whatever happens next. No longer will he get away with dictatorially announcing decisions to which others are supposed to kowtow……I wonder if the guy even knows how to discuss an issue. [Sachem515, I really disagree with you….about ‘giving Bush what he asks for’—-no tantrum thrower learns how to grow up with that response, and this is about a lot more than politics.]

  12. Why not save some money for Dumbya by defunding the mercs and the no bid reconstruction contracts.
    Stop the profiteering, and the occupation (no war has been declared) will wither and die.
    Oh yeah, and call the deciderer a whaaaaambulance.

  13. If this emergency funding bill is vetoed, then pass a much more limited emergency funding bill which provides money only until the regular budget is expected to be passed for the next year. Take it out of emergency status.

  14. I think the best idea I’ve heard is for the Democrats to parcel the money out in 3 month increments and make the Republicans vote on Iraq money over and over leading right up to the election. Put a pullout resolution in every one of those and try to peel off two more Republicans wary of their re-election chances every three months and pretty soon there is a veto proof margin. They wanted to fund their war in a way that keeps it off the books, make em pay for it.

  15. Mark Johnson – I think you hit the nail right on the head. This “war” is solely about power and profit. The PNAC has been advocating this for years. I really wish we could view some legimate income tax information from tricky dicky.

  16. Instead of tying the funding to a timetable for withdrawal, which Bush will never agree to, how about trying it to a restoration of civil liberties, the closing of Gitmo and/or clarified limits on Presidential power? Nothing too outrageous or of questionable popularity (maybe closing Gitmo’s the wrong thing) — not so much that the Prez can defend not signing but enough to give the Dems a clear victory AND get rid of a few of the more deplorable innovations of the past few years.

    I do approve of forcing a move away from these emergency funding bills as well.

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