Damaging the war effort
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.