It was only a year ago that the newly elected Democratic
congressional majority declared they had received a clear mandate from the
American people to end the war in Iraq and to reverse President Bush's "failed"
policies. Coming into 2007, we were assured again and again by Speaker of the
House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.,
that the new Democratic majority would put an end to the war and impose a
timetable for troop withdrawals.
Here we are nearing the end of the year and not only are the
troops still in Iraq, but thanks to the surge there are more soldiers in
theater today than when the Democrats took back Congress. If the Democrats did
indeed possess a mandate for change, why are we still in Iraq?
Of course the short answer is the president still has his
veto pen. Indeed, in this year alone Mr. Bush has wielded his veto pen more
times than in all of the first six years of his administration, but such an
explanation fails to address the fact that a bill including a timeline for
troop withdrawal has only reached the president's desk once. More than 40 votes
have been taken in Congress attempting to bring an end to the war, and they
continually fail. The most recent failed attempt was a bill by Wisconsin's very
own Rep. Dave Obey that would have "redeployed" all combat troops from Iraq.
The bill had passed the House but died, as almost all of these troop withdrawal
bills do, in the Senate where the Republicans threatened a filibuster. Some
Republicans hailed it as a victory, while Democrats have decried Republican
None of this should be too surprising. After all, even if
the Senate were to pass Mr. Obey's retreat legislation, we all know that Mr.
Bush will veto the bill and there is no two-thirds majority to override it. The
really odd thing is that this was not the most important vote the Senate took
during their session last Friday. Actually, the vote taken immediately before
the Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Act is far more interesting. The
Democrats had actually used the same tactic as the Republicans — the threat of
a filibuster — to defeat the emergency supplemental spending bill that would
fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There was no timetable attached, no pork barrel spending to
buy votes — the Democrats in the Senate simply decided they were no longer
going to fund the war. It took almost an entire year for the Democrats to
summon the courage to actually do this, but they seem to have finally drawn a
line in the sand on war funding.
Let me say the Democrats are wrong and they are playing a
very dangerous game, but this is perhaps the strongest statement the Democrat
majority has made against Mr. Bush. In statements made after the vote, Mr. Reid
assured members of the press that the Army would have funds available at least
through February 2008 and that there is no need to pass the supplemental bill
In essence, the Senate Democrats are going to play chicken
on war funding with the president, and they are hoping he blinks first.
This has happened before. Back in the '90s, then-Speaker of
the House Newt Gingrich went toe-to-toe with President Clinton on domestic
appropriations. The stalemate ultimately led to a government shutdown, and Mr.
Gingrich and other Republican lawmakers were planning that the American people
would blame the president. Well, they didn't; they blamed Congress.
The same scenario could play out again if Mr. Reid and the
rest of the Senate Democrats if they aren't careful. After Thanksgiving there
are very few days that Congress will be in session until next year, and the
odds that the funding battle will be resolved are slim. I have little doubt
that there will ultimately be an 11th-hour showdown on war funding early next
The question becomes whether the Senate Democrats are
willing to go the distance and actually let the military's funding lapse, or if
they will fold like they have on all the other major votes. On the one hand,
they have to appease their anti-war base that helped put them in the majority,
but on the other they run the risk of appearing to abandon the troops they have
professed to support so long as they are in harm's way.
Mike Hahn ([email protected])
is a senior majoring in political science and history.