Dam­ag­ing the war ef­fort

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

As Congress headed to­wards the Me­mo­rial Day re­cess, the House and Se­nate Demo­cratic lead­er­ship seemed to be com­pet­ing with each other to see which cham­ber could pass the more ir­re­spon­si­ble bill to fund U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, chaired by Rep. David Obey, Wis­con­sin Demo­crat, and the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, chaired by Sen. Robert Byrd, West Vir­ginia Demo­crat, larded up their re­spec­tive bills with such things as new do­mes­tic spend­ing, along with a tax in­crease to fund a se­ri­ously flawed vet­er­ans ed­u­ca­tion bill; a timetable for with­draw­ing troops from Iraq; crip­pling lim­i­ta­tions on the CIA’s abil­ity to in­ter­ro­gate cap­tured ter­ror­ists and even an amnesty plan that would ben­e­fit il­le­gal-alien farm­work­ers. In other words, they have put in more than enough ob­jec­tion­able pro­vi­sions to trig­ger a pres­i­den­tial veto.

On the House side, the Democrats on May 15 man­aged to pass a “war fund­ing” bill that failed to con­tain fund­ing for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s be­cause the lead­er­ship broke the leg­is­la­tion up into three parts: There were votes on war fund­ing; pol­icy re- stric­tions fo­cus­ing on the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­duct of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions; and do­mes­tic spend­ing. This was sup­posed to give the hard left in the House Demo­cratic Cau­cus the abil­ity to vote for new taxes and spend­ing and voice their op­po­si­tion to the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­duct of the war, while House Repub­li­cans would vote to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there­fore spar­ing the Democrats the in­dig­nity of crit­i­cism that Congress was show­ing con­tempt for the war ef­fort (which, of course, is pre­cisely what most of the Democrats have been do­ing through­out the 110th Congress). The do­mes­tic spend­ing and pol­icy re­stric­tions were rammed through the House on largely party-line votes. But Repub­li­cans — un­der­stand­ably dis­gusted with the po­lit­i­cal game­play­ing and the fact that they were shut out of the draft­ing of the bill — re­fused to play their as­signed role. The troop fund­ing plan failed on a 149-141 vote, with 132 law­mak­ers vot­ing “present” — all of them Repub­li­cans.

The leg­is­la­tion in­cluded an 18-month pull­out timetable for with­draw­ing troops from Iraq — a help­ful cal­en­dar for al Qaeda and the Iraqi mili­tias hop­ing to wait out the U.S. mil­i­tary. There was at least $21.2 bil­lion in do­mes­tic spend­ing for ev­ery­thing from un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits to lev­ees in New Or­leans.

In ad­di­tion, the bill in­cludes a sur­tax on mil­lion­aires to pay for an ex­ten­sion of GI ed­u­ca­tion ben­e­fits that the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice es­ti­mates will cost $51.6 bil­lion over the next 10 years. That leg­is­la­tion mir­rors a Se­nate bill in­tro­duced by Sens. James Webb, Vir­ginia Demo­crat, and John Warner, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can. The Webb-Warner mea­sure will likely at­tract more mil­i­tary re­cruits with its very fa­vor­able ed­u­ca­tion ben­e­fits — but it could may also de­grade the qual­ity of the U.S. mil­i­tary by en­cour­ag­ing sol­diers not to re-en­list. In a re­port ear­lier this month, CBO in­di­cated that Web­bWarner could cut the re-en­list­ment rate by 16 per­cent (which if ac­cu­rate would run di­rectly counter to the na­tional in­ter­est.) But in­stead of tak­ing the time to craft a good bill that would im­prove vet­er­ans’ ed­u­ca­tional ben­e­fits with­out slash­ing the re-en­list­ment rate, the House Demo­cratic lead­er­ship, re­gret­tably with some Repub­li­can sup­port, voted to in­clude Webb-Warner in the leg­is­la­tion that passed on May 15.

Even worse, thanks largely to the in­ter- ven­tion of the Blue Dog Coali­tion of “mod­er­ate” Democrats, this poorly crafted leg­is­la­tion also in­cludes some­thing called the “Pa­triot Tax”: a sur­tax that would ap­ply to in­di­vid­u­als earn­ing more than $500,000 a year and cou­ples mak­ing more than $1 mil­lion. Repub­li­cans noted that many of those who would be dam­aged by the tax wouldn’t be the “wealthy” but small-busi­ness op­er­a­tors — in other words, the House is stick­ing it to the very en­trepreneurs who would be the back­bone of any eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny Hoyer says re­as­sur­ingly that war fund­ing will be re­stored in the Se­nate. Don’t bet on it. Also on May 15, the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee ap­proved an amend­ment in­tro­duced by Sens. Dianne Fe­in­stein, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and Larry Craig, Idaho Repub­li­can, that would pro­vide amnesty to, at a bare min­i­mum, hun­dreds of thou­sands of il­le­gal-alien agri­cul­tural work­ers (the Fed­er­a­tion on Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form puts the num­ber of amnesty ben­e­fi­cia­ries from this pro­vi­sion at 1.35 mil­lion.) Se­nate Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing John McCain, should make sure that this ir­re­spon­si­ble amend­ment is stripped from the troop-fund­ing bill.

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