Saturday, August 11, 2007

Congressional Navel Gazing

I don't know Winslow Wheeler, but he has a piece worth reading in the Politico:

The outcome is painfully clear – just like it is every year. Democrats will give Bush the spending increases he wants in the parts of the already bloated defense budget, which have nothing to do with the war. In return Democrats will receive spending on their politically favored goodies: children’s health care and a litany of other domestic spending – all to be supplemented with a bout of bridge repair and infrastructure reconstruction. It all adds up to an uncoordinated spending spasm about to hit the public’s pocketbook with a vengeance...

The other problem is, of course, the war. Having failed to confront President Bush with any real obstruction to his mangled and mangling wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Democrats, who it will be recalled were elected on a platform to do something about it, would like us to think there will be some sort of titanic confrontation in September when President Bush’s latest “last hope” in the form of General Petraeus gives his much ballyhooed report. The politically attuned general will clearly report to his approving boss and the nation that he and the president’s surge have made oh so much progress and now – rather, then – will be no time for Congress to pull out the funding rug. The vast majority of Congress will then be frozen in the headlights of General Petraeus’ implied promise that just a few more months of war will mean something new in Iraq.

The Democrats will cave to the requirement for more war funding without limiting conditions; they have to. They have failed and will fail (by not trying) to put together a winning anti-war coalition by embracing enough Republicans to override a Bush veto. Triumphant in their defeat, the Democrats will blame Bush and the Republicans for refusing to join then, and then they will adjourn Congress. They’ll say they wish they could have done more, but George W. Bush just wouldn’t give way.

Absent the snark and editorializing, there's a very good chance that this is just how things will go. Certainly it's not unusual for the President and Congress to settle funding fights by having each side give the other what it wants. On war funding, Wheeler simply predicts an extension of what has happened so far. On the war and on FISA -- in short, on every security/terrorism issue -- this Congress has tried to avoid blame and responsibility by talking tough and giving in to the President. (Politically, it's the safest thing to do.)

The one caveat I'd offer is that the Democratic Congress is not really likely to have the chance to pull funding for Iraq. Or put more specifically, at present it will take an affirmative act to withdraw funds, not provide them. The war is funded through the first part of next year. The normal FY08 defense funding bill -- which could be a vehicle for tying the President's hand on Iraq -- has already passed the House. The debate surrounding the bill contains the usual bluster, but it's highly unlikely that Congress will actually use it to try to change Iraq policy. And if it does, the veto always awaits.

So as Wheeler predicts, September will be full of sound and fury, signifying... next to nothing.

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