For the first time in American history the House of Representatives has informed the military that it knows more than the Commander in Chief about conducting a war. In doing so this Congress also has notified the enemy in our ongoing war in Iraq when the enemy should expect us to begin pulling out troops and precisely how many months it will take for complete withdrawal.
If only the Congress had thought of this idea earlier - perhaps back in 1944 - we could have sent a telegram to the Germans that included the D-Day schedule. This certainly would have saved the United States Government a lot of money and saved the Nazis a lot of trouble!
The vote on the Conference Report for HR 1591, officially known as the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2007, was 218 -208 with only two Republicans voting with the Democratic Majority. The Report contained many non-military appropriations as well, but required all continued funding of the military be linked to specific dates for withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. This is the "hammer" the legislation intended to use against the President because the Pentagon is literally out of money right now and already has used up one supplemental appropriation.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) has changed his mind about this issue three times in the last six months. Campaigning last November, he swore not to allow cutting off funds for the military under any circumstance. Then he decided that it was okay under certain conditions. Now he is threatening to present brand new legislation which would completely end all funding for the War in Iraq.
Senator Reid also recently informed the American people (and our troops) that "Winning the war is no longer the job of the U.S. military." Under Reid's leadership, the Senate is expected to pass something similar to the Conference Report passed last night in the House, possibly as early as today, but both sides are aware that President George W. Bush has promised to veto any legislation that includes a timeline for the Iraq War as soon as the legislation gets to his desk.
General David Petraeus spent much of yesterday on Capitol Hill speaking in closed session and trying to convince Members not to vote for the bill. (Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] was unavailable to meet with the General but that should not come as a surprise.) Petraeus specifically asked that Congress wait until July to judge whether the so-called "Surge Strategy" in Iraq was working before rushing ahead with legislation that included "a date certain" for withdrawal.
Though it was only recently, in January of 2007, that Petraeus was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate to command of U.S. troops in Iraq, few on the Hill seem to want to listen to his advice. Politics is more important.
An interesting feature of the Conference Report passed last evening is the items it did contain: no money for the troops without a pullout timetable but lots of earmarks. The House version of the Iraq funding bill still includes most of the "pork barrel" spending that was in place when it passed in the original form. (A conference report is the result of differences between House and Senate legislation worked out and brought back for a final vote.)
There remains $3.5 billion for agricultural disaster relief, money for the Senate gift shop, salaries for farm service workers and $650 million to bail out one State's poorly run health insurance program for children - none of which has anything to do with the military but much to do with the business of re-election.
An unfortunate precedent has been set for future administrations and future military appropriations. Unofficially, there are plans already underway for another appropriations bill in the House, where the process will have to start all over again fairly soon but it is a sad day when elected Representatives play political games with military funding and our troops must hear about it on the battlefield.
It never should have come to this point. Now that it has, let the vetoing begin.