Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Response from DC

I spoke with Jane Harman's staff on Tuesday to get clarification on two issues:

- the 'constitutionality' issue of Congress using its power of the purse to prevent a buildup of forces

- Harman's apparent willingness to vote for an Iraq emergency supplemental she says is wrong

I did not succeed in getting anything directly in response to my questions. According to the person I spoke with, any on the record response would need to be cleared first by the congresswoman herself. However, in each case I got pointed to a portion of items Harman has written recently that I was told addressed my questions.

On the constitutionality issue, I was pointed to the following language from Jane Harman's latest Huffington Post piece:

We need to start redeploying our troops out of Iraq now, something I've been saying for over six months. Last summer was the last chance for the military mission to succeed. It didn't. So I am supporting H. Res. 41, introduced by my Massachusetts colleague Marty Meehan, expressing disapproval of the President's policy. And I am reviewing proposals to limit or end funding for additional military personnel in Iraq.

That's the same squishy language Harman's used before. She could at least refute the falsehood that Congress can't prohibit funding for a troop buildup. Harman will be a drag on the effort to stop this war so long as she stays in undecided mode and says things like this:

Mitchell: Congresswoman, you've talked about more oversight, but Joe Biden said on Meet the Press that constitutionally, Congress doesn't have the power to do what Ted Kennedy and Ed Markey and others are suggesting - cutting off the funds. Do you agree with that or not?

Harman: Well, I think we have to look at that. Uh, I think there are constitutional issues. He is the Commander in Chief. Ah, Congress did vote for a resolution to authorize the action in Iraq. I supported it at the time based on what turned out to be wrong intelligence, and I was wrong.

And now that we've got to put the brakes on rushing to war with Iran, Harman's "the intelligence turned out to be wrong, I was wrong" formulation has got to go, too. With Bush pushing Iran as the next big threat, Harman shouldn't be giving him a free pass for manipulating and fabricating intelligence. Yes, it means she needs to take more responsibility for her role in OK'ing a war based on claims that were lacking intelligence support at the time, but that's critical if she's to stop it from happening again.

On the supplemental, the issue should be placed in context of the budget schedule. The current budget for the fiscal year through September has almost no money for the Iraq War; Republicans designed it that way to force the war costs to be off-budget. Last year's supplemental funded operations through February (or something like that). Thus, there is no money, officially at least, in place for the rest of the fiscal year. And so, to ensure there's funding for the next six months, Harman says congress will have to OK the forthcoming 2007 supplemental.

No one in Congress wants to deprive our brave military men and women of the protective gear or equipment they need, or to fail to fund their safe exit from Iraq. That is why the 2007 supplemental appropriation is likely to pass -- and finding spending to cut in the 2007 budget to offset theses costs will be hopeless. But the marker can be set down for future funding. No more "emergency" supplementals, Mr. President.

Future funding for the war in Iraq must be on-budget, so Congress and the public can see the trade-offs and finally have a chance to "share" what is sacrificed.

While it may be true that budget tricks are forcing Congress into approving this supplemental, I don't think her framing of this could be worse. Of course no one in Congress wants to deprive troops of protective gear or a safe exit -- so why the heck is she even mentioning it? Please ditch the unnecessarily defensive posture.

Doing so distracts from the person who's put the troops at unwarranted risk from day one of this war: George Bush. He's denied the troops the protective equipment they've needed even though he's gotten every last cent he's asked for from Congress for the last four years. Money is not the issue, it's a matter of priorities. And for Bush, soldiers don't get top billing.

And she says the supplemental is likely to pass -- but is she talking about the version Bush wants or a downsized version with conditions and restrictions that congressional Democrats will want. This supplemental could be a tool to getting closer to the end of the war. Will Harman be too timid to touch it for fear of being accused of being anti-troops? We shall see.

[I edited this post to better explain Harman's rationale for saying the 2007 supplemental will be approved. I agree that congress' hand is essentially forced - if there's no money in the regular 2007 budget money for the rest of the fiscal year they must approve money for that time. In all reality, though, Bush has padded the last supplemental to fund war operations status quo for many additional months and he's likely to pad this request for much more than 6 months of costs, so let's hope the request gets taken with a grain of salt.]


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