May 25, 2007

Analysis: Congress Passes War Funding Bill

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After a heated battle between Bush and the Democrats over the Iraq war, Congress passed a war funding bill that holds off another confrontation between the two sides until September. Overall, Bush achieved a major victory. He adamantly insisted that the new war funding bill can not contain troop withdrawal timelines, whether mandated or voluntary. That alone constitutes victory for Bush. Under his thinking, establishing a timeline for withdrawal amounts to establishing a countdown timer for terrorists to lie low until the U.S. leaves and they really can wreak havoc in Iraq. Furthermore, although the bill introduced many benchmarks for the Iraqi government, Bush has the ability to waive them if he so desires.

However, what is now a short-term victory for Bush can turn into a long-term defeat if he does not handle the situation well. With both the benchmarks and the many reports Bush is required to prepare for Congress, the Democrats have established a much higher level of accountability for him on Iraq. Democrats have set themselves to hammer away both at Bush and his Republican support if he does not manage the war well, so he really has to step it up over the following months.

Democrats certainly have their fair share of troubles, though. If Democrats do not support this compromise, they could be accused of either not supporting the troops or straying a little too far to the left. With the 80-14 margin by which the bill passed in the Senate, there now exist two gangs of 14: 14 Senators who compromised to avoid an epic, partisan showdown in Congress over filibustering judicial nominees, and 14 Senators who composed the small minority of “No” votes against a bipartisan compromise on war funding. Many people would prefer the former group.

On the other hand, many antiwar Democrats will pulverize their fellow colleagues who vote to fund the war. For example, posted this statement on their website threatening “in-district advertising and recruitment of primary challengers” against supporters of the war funding bill. The famous liberal blog site Daily Kos also makes a similar statement: “If we don’t use the strength of the progressive movement in the 2008 presidential primaries, then the influence the DLC-nexus, neoliberals, and LieberDems have in determining the direction of the Democratic Party increases.” The antiwar left forms a powerful part of the Democratic base, and those who alienate them could dearly pay a price for their actions.

On the brighter side, the Democrats also managed to insert many worthwhile domestic spending initiatives in the bill, including improved healthcare for veterans and more funding to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Of course, the biggest domestic victory that came with the compromise was increasing the minimum wage to $7.25 (though I personally think that’s a bit steep; $6.50 would be better in my mind).

So, in summary, I would say Bush won this round, but he has to worry about losing the war (in more ways than one). Although he came out on top against the Democrats, who are facing internal conflicts themselves, the situation can easily change. Democrats, who did not lose out completely, especially on the domestic side of things, will unite against Bush if he does not make substantial progress this time, and if that happens, it will be the Republicans who are divided on whether or not to continue to support the Iraq war without troop withdrawals or timelines.