Thursday, April 05, 2007

Democratic Senators: Just Say "Yea"

I've just started with my own personal "whip count" on votes that Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) can bank on if they need to bring to the Senate floor their proposed legislation that would cut off money for continuing the disastrous Iraq war.

Some of my Progressive colleagues say that it's premature and bad strategy to be discussing this option before Bush even vetoes the supplemental bill. I would respectfully disagree and submit that the scenario that spawned the Feingold-Reid measure is far from hypothetical and almost a certainty.

There's no question that Bush will veto the supplemental funding bill because it contains the Iraq-withdrawal provision he despises so much. The fact that it also contains the money he needs for the troops doesn't matter to Bush. Likewise, there's no doubt in my mind that Reid will bring the bill that forces Bush out of Iraq in a year (by cutting off war funding) to the Senate for a vote shortly thereafter.

So where do we stand on support for Feingold-Reid? Well, let's just say that it's a good thing I didn’t expect too much, too soon.

Granted, Senators are on their one-week recess and I understand that, far from the vacation many people think they take during this time, a good part of it is spent roaming their home states and listening to constituents. In addition, some Senate offices are staffed with skeleton crews during the recess and an eager political writer looking for a statement on upcoming legislation may have to cool his heels, show a bit of damn patience and wait a week or so.

Legislation can also be very complicated and some of it is so lengthy and contains so many twists and turns that you can suffer from a dizzying combination of boredom and motion sickness just reading it.

I understand all of that.

But the Feingold-Reid legislation is 187 words. That's it. I've read movie descriptions on DVD jackets longer than that. In addition, the words that are there hardly require a parliamentarian for deciphering. I'm not kidding -- here's the entire bill:
(a) Transition of Mission - The President shall promptly transition the mission of United States forces in Iraq to the limited purposes set forth in subsection (d).

(b) Commencement of Safe, Phased Redeployment from Iraq - The President shall commence the safe, phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq that are not essential to the purposes set forth in subsection (d). Such redeployment shall begin not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(c) Prohibition on Use of Funds - No funds appropriated or otherwise made available under any provision of law may be obligated or expended to continue the deployment in Iraq of members of the United States Armed Forces after March 31, 2008.

(d) Exception for Limited Purposes - The prohibition under subsection (c) shall not apply to the obligation or expenditure of funds for the limited purposes as follows:

(1) To conduct targeted operations, limited in duration and scope, against members of al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations.

(2) To provide security for United States infrastructure and personnel.

(3) To train and equip Iraqi security services.
Don't bother Googling for more. That's the whole thing.

So I've been hitting up the press offices of Senate Democrats, Independent Bernie Sanders and Republicans Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith -- the latter two voted for the supplemental with the withdrawal provision -- to see where people stand on Feingold-Reid and have waited to see what kind of results I would get in the first two days.

Vermont's stalwart Independent, Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, stepped right up to the plate and I quickly heard back from Sanders' Communications Director, Erin Campbell:
Senator Bernie Sanders said, “I strongly support the legislation proposed by Senator Reid and Senator Feingold to bring an end to U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq. By setting a concrete timeline to stop funding for the war, this legislation sends a strong message to the President that he cannot simply continue to follow the same failed policies. Since this President has refused to recognize the reality of the situation in Iraq, it is up to Congress to put and end to the war and bring our troops home. This legislation is an important step in that direction.”
Some were not quite as straightforward -- and not incredibly hopeful -- but at least acknowledged that they were familiar with the legislation.

"Senator Tester will not vote for any measure that he feels may compromise the safety and security of the troops on the ground," said Matt McKenna, Communications Director for freshman Senator Jon Tester of Montana.

But putting the onus on Democrats to keep funding this war, versus placing the weight on Bush to pull the troops out of that quagmire before the money is gone, means that Tester is almost reciting Republican talking points for a response. Jon Tester's a good man and I have faith that he will rethink this before the vote actually comes to the Senate floor.

There's still no formal word from the office of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), but what little I have read may be the most discouraging thing of all.

When asked for her position the day after Feingold and Reid announced their bill, Clinton is quoted in the New York Times as saying “I’ll look into that” before gathering with reporters to get more information about the legislation and then declaring “I need to read it.”

“Russ has introduced a series of bills,” she said. “Before I respond to it, I need to see what it is that they are talking about this time.”

Given that there's no way Senator Clinton could have not known about this simple bill -- the Senate Majority Leader doesn’t publicly announce such a thing without giving advance notice to his caucus and their senior staff -- I can only assume that Clinton was unwilling to take a stand and gave that disingenuous response to stall.

I'm afraid it's that, or she needs to fire some of her staff for having her so woefully unprepared to respond to a high-profile, up-front piece of legislation that had been announced by the leader of her caucus the previous day.

Either way, it ain't good.

In fairness, I will also note that I have received no response from Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) or Joe Biden (D-DE), who are also running for President. Democratic presidential contender Chris Dodd (D-CT) signed on with Feingold-Reid immediately.

But progress has been made. We started the week with Feingold and Reid drawing a line in the sand and truly being willing to show leadership to end this pointless war. We closed out Wednesday with six others joining them in either confirming that they will support the bill to stop funding the war or will go a step further and cosponsor the measure.

Here's my current count of the gutsy:
  • Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Chris Dodd (D-CT)
  • Russ Feingold (D-WI)
  • Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
  • John Kerry (D-MA)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Harry Reid (D-NV)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
I have high hopes that the coming days will see even more Senators coming out of their shells. Perhaps they'll be spurred on by the fact that, in addition to defying the will of the American people on Iraq, George W. Bush just gave the whole Congress the middle finger by doing a recess appointment of Swift-Boat Sugar Daddy Sam Fox to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Belgium.

So come on out, Democrats and Republican Senators Hagel and Smith. I know you're out there; I can hear you being too cautious.

Just say "Yea."