May 15, 2008 stands as a historic day: the House of Representatives voted no-confidence in President Bush’s Iraq War Policy. Iraq war veterans opposed to the war lobbied the House. Their visible presence, in quiet, intense and moving conversation with House members told it all. The anti-War movement stood united in its efforts to support the efforts made by anti-war legislators.
The House used its appropriations power to limit Bush’s unrestrained war policies and set a time limit for troop withdrawal. It took an additional step by ending Iraq war funding. Most House Republicans refused to fund a war they support thereby adding to the no-confidence vote. The House expanded the GI Bill and paid for its expansion by asking rich people to pay an addition half a percent more on their taxes.
This note will discuss the legislation’s provisions, analyze the House votes and discuss why the Bush demagoguery on these issues has no merit.
The House Democratic leadership, operating as a team, listened to its members to structure a way of the House working its will on key issues directly related to the Iraq War. What the leadership structured is a precise use of the power of the purse to choose priorities and set boundaries on the use of our tax dollars by an unaccountable and unrestrained President.
The Bill’s Provisions
The House leadership divided the legislation into three parts known as Amendments 1, 2 and 3.
Amendment1: This Amendment provided funds to continue the war until a new President can set new policies for troop withdrawal. This Amendment allowed those opposed to the war to vote no, those who voted yes would not be politically vulnerable by not supporting the troops (mostly marginal Democrats from rural districts that overwhelmingly supported Bush in 2004). Supporters of the war, most House Republicans, were expected to support the legislation. Instead most House Republicans voted present. That is they refused to fund the war they claim to support.
Amendment 2: This Amendment established significant ground rules limiting the President’s authority to wage an unrestrained war. It establishes four significant policies sharply drawing the line with Bush policies:
* Sets a mandate for withdrawal of troops from Iraq starting 30 days after enactment and to be completed within 18 months. What this policy does is establish a framework for a supportive President to begin a process of orderly troop withdrawal that protects our troops during the withdrawal phase.
* Rotates the troops by requiring sufficient rest periods of more than a year between the time they are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan before they resume combat duty. This responds to the many examples of men and women having multiple times of service in combat zones with hardly any real time at home.
* Sets specific policies barring President Bush from unilaterally binding the next Administration in committing troops to Iraq.
* Makes the prohibition on torture by US personnel crystal clear.
Amendment 3: The heart of Amendment 3 recognizes the service of our women and men in Afghanistan and Iraq by expanding veteran’s education for 10 years at an investment of $52 billion dollars. It extends the benefit for those serving in the National Guard who presently do not receive GI Education benefits. The GI Bill gets paid for by requiring approximately 500,000 taxpayers to have a surtax of 0.5% of couples earning more than $1,000,000 or individuals earning more than $500,000. That small increase will bring in the money to pay for the added costs of educating our veterans.
Analyzing the House Vote
Amendment 1 failed for two reasons: 63% of the Democrats opposed continued funding of the war. The 37% Democratic supporters of this funding mostly came from marginal electoral districts or rural areas. For most of them Bush carried their districts overwhelmingly in 2000 and 2004.
Seventy percent of the House Republicans surprised the President by voting present—neither yea nor nay. In their panic they abandoned Bush. They disrespected their constituents by not giving them their public judgment on the war.
Amendment 2 succeeded with the support of 94% of the House Democrats. It attracted 8 Republicans an increase of 4 in support of a deadline for withdrawal.
Amendment 3 had support from 97% of the House Democrats and 32 Republicans amounting to 17% of the House Republicans.
The Politics of It All
As a builder of House coalitions among liberal and moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans (an endangered group), I admire the work of the House Democratic leadership and the relevant committee sub-committee chairs. Ideas from many sources were drawn on including specific suggestions from Council for the Livable World and other anti-war groups.
Critical time was spent with Democratic House members listening to their concerns and structuring the process to enable House members to vote on all key issues. That is why it is a democratic process. Republicans have no cause to complain. In their day as a majority they did not allow key issues to be voted on.
The House Republican leadership and Bush will fire a steady drumbeat accusing the Democrats of abandoning the troops. That’s false. In using the public funds for withdrawal of the troops the money when appropriated serves to protect the troops. Even if true that funds will run out in mid-June (a very debatable matter), absent any enacted legislation, the Pentagon has acknowledged that money can be borrowed from the Navy and Air force funds. On that matter Congress will not stand in the way.
This vote present represents the panic House Republicans have in losing three straight bye elections in rock ribbed Republican House districts. Cheney’s presence in Mississippi campaigning for the defeated Republican adds to the panic. Old Rovian tactics of linking the conservative Democrats to Obama and Pelosi failed. Panic is palpable.
Above all it represents a triumph among House opponents of the Iraq war who recognize this disastrous and costly mistake. A strong majority of House officeholders want to take prompt action to begin to protect our troops, save Iraqi lives and strengthen our security by ending this disaster.
David Cohen is the Senior Congressional Fellow at Council for a Livable World