Yesterday an Associated Press story said, in effect, the Dems were capitulating to Bush’s demands for a condition-free Iraq appropriation bill. I didn’t comment on it because I noticed there was no corroboration from other news sources, which made me think the story was inaccurate.
Sure enough; the AP jumped the gun a tad. Today Carl Hulse of the New York Times says that nothing has been decided.
After an evening meeting of top House Democrats, the party canceled a session at which they were to present the elements of a new war spending proposal to the rank and file in anticipation of a vote this week.
â€œThere is no deal,â€ said Representative David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and is one of the lead negotiators over the war money. …
… Democratic leaders remain reluctant to cede too much ground to the president in the fight over financing and expect many Democrats to oppose the legislation if it is viewed as too weak. But party leaders are also uneasy about being blamed for withholding any money from the military and have said repeatedly in recent days that they intend to send Mr. Bush a bill he will sign before leaving for the Memorial Day holiday.
Like earlier articles containing basically the same information, the article doesn’t cite any named sources, nor does it provide significant detail, suggesting that the anonymous announcement may be, to some extent, a trial balloon. If the announcement unleashes a tsunami of protest, leaders have left themselves room to back away from it. Hopefully, this is exactly what will happen.
Now’s the time to howl, folks.
Whatever happens: I have thought all along it was unlikely this particular bill would bring about the final showdown. I’ve seen it as just one of a series of votes that would chip away at whatever it is that still props up President Bush and eventually enable Congress to act without him to bring home the troops. I think it is unlikely that whatever appropriation bill Congress cranks out next will be one we like very much. But this is not the end. What’s most important now is momentum; moving the yard markers, as it were. If the final bill lays some groundwork for future progress, then the fight isn’t over. There are a number of other Iraq votes coming up that will provide new opportunities to do battle.
Matt Stoller at MyDD has some comments I agree with —
…it’s worth pointing out that there are a number of problems with the Democratic Party so far, problems which had been predicted (and which are unavoidable). Most progressive activists realized that 2006 was going to strengthen the progressive movement, but it would not put us in charge. No, the people in charge are the Steve Elmendorf’s, the lobbyists, and the single issue group leaders. These aren’t insane Republicans, but they are ‘little c’ conservative, cautious, and driven by the need for exceptional amounts of reassurance before embarking on any strategy. Some of them are progressive, some of them are not, but mostly what they are is opaque. There is little transparency on how decisions are made, and you can see the effects: no minimum wage increase, no lobbying reform, no prescription drug negotiations, a questionable and confusing announcement of more NAFTA-style policies, a refusal to follow up on ignored subpoenas, and no end to the war in Iraq.
That said, we need to keep working to change this state of affairs, and there is a lot of hope. Reid has a very unreliable caucus of 51 Senators, with a large chunk that pull away at the hint of anything controversial or progressive, while Pelosi has to deal with a large Blue Dog caucus. Nevertheless, both passed extremely strong Iraq legislation, and there’s a lot of oversight going on. The Republicans are bleeding public support, and in 2008 Democrats can rip a chunk of their voters to our side.
And then there’s the McGovern amendment, which was not supposed to break 100 votes. It got 171 votes, including stalwart cautious operatives like Rahm Emanuel. That’s very very good. Still, I think it’s important to recognize right now that the Democratic conventional wisdom is in flux. There’s polling that suggests opposition to Bush and the Iraq war is the right strategy, and 171 members of Congress recognized that. Only 59 Democrats voted against it. That’s not just a majority of the caucus, that’s 74% of the caucus. This is an antiwar party. But it’s not a disciplined antiwar party.
Before the midterms I spent a lot of time arguing with people that it would be worth it to get a Dem majority in Congress even if most of the Dems in Congress were limp as socks. I still believe that. The Wimpifying of the Dem party was years — nay, decades — in the making, and it’s going to take a lot more than one election cycle to mold them into a party that’s more to our liking.
I get frustrated with the Dems, but in some ways I get even more frustrated with the leftie activists and bloggers who are already screaming about sellouts and declaring that all the wrangling over this bill has been a complete waste of time. Remember, the real problem is bigger than just Iraq. Iraq is just one front in a bigger war. There is a point at which bridge-burning and earth-scorching become self-destructive. Dems in Washington are over-cautious on that point, but it’s possible some in the base are not cautious enough.