Reject The Toothless Supplemental
After weeks of negotiations with the White House in the wake of President Bush’s veto of the Iraq war supplemental appropriations bill, congressional leaders relented yesterday by removing a timetable for withdrawal from the legislation, the first time this session that withdrawal proponents “had publicly agreed to allow a vote on war financing without a timetable for troop withdrawal.” By acquiescing on their top goal, congressional leaders backed away from the views of a strong majority of Americans who believe a timetable for withdrawal is necessary to end the war. While the compromise legislation Bush will likely sign is a step forward, it includes language that would continue to grant the President the brunt of power for managing the war. The legislation is “expected to come before the House and the Senate tomorrow and to be sent to Bush no later than Friday.” “I’m not likely to vote for something that doesn’t have a timetable or a goal,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said yesterday. Members of Congress who believe in holding the President fully accountable and providing a visible end to the war should follow Pelosi’s lead and vote against the supplemental this week.
THREATENING UNITY OF WAR CRITICS: In developing the original war supplemental bill which included a timeline for withdrawal, Congressional leaders successfully bridged previous ideological divisions, unifying members behind a plan to fund our troops while withdrawing them from the civil war in Iraq. Anti-war members in the Progressive and Out of Iraq caucuses announced in March that they would be “letting go” of their opposition to the war supplemental, giving the House enough votes to pass withdrawal legislation. This unity was heralded as “the biggest test to date of [Pelosi’s] leadership.” But the coalition is threatened after yesterday’s compromise, as liberal members “who reluctantly have backed House leaders on the Iraq spending bill may defect due to the leadership’s decision to eliminate any timeline for withdrawal from the legislation.” The exclusion of a timeline threatens to “split the Democratic caucus in half, with as many as 120 Democrats voting no.” To pass the supplemental, many members favoring withdrawal may ally with conservatives who favor an open-ended commitment in Iraq. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus and critic of the lack of timetables in the legislation, said yesterday, “The anti-war Democrats have reached their tipping point.”
NO IMMINENT WITHDRAWAL: The new bill will likely “incorporate the benchmarks-based provision authored by Sen. John Warner (R-VA),” which would “establish 18 political and legislative benchmarks for the Iraqi government, with periodic reports from Bush on its progress, starting in late July,” forfeiting U.S. reconstruction aid if Iraqis fall short. But unlike the original war supplemental, Congress has less control of funding if those benchmarks are not met, as “Bush would have the authority to order the money to be spent regardless of how the government in Baghdad” performed. “Bush could waive these requirements if he submits a report to Congress on why he is doing so.” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) stated, “I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and allows the president to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history.” Despite much of the military being “rated as unready to deploy,” the final bill is also likely to be “stripped of other features that Mr. Bush had previously resisted, including readiness standards that would have prevented troops from being returned to Iraq within one year of serving there or without adequate training and equipment.” While the Warner language requires Bush to report to Congress on progress in September, 67 percent of congressional Republicans say that even if conditions in Iraq have not improved significantly by September, Congress will still not pass legislation withdrawing U.S. forces out of Iraq.
WHAT NEXT: Congressional leaders have vowed to continue to press Bush on a timeline for withdrawal. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) insisted that “we intend to continue that fight” for an Iraq timeline “on every vehicle available to us,” adding that the “first two vehicles that we expect to join the issue on are the defense appropriations bill in July and the defense supplemental appropriations bill in September.” “Eventually, there will be a date certain,” Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) said yesterday. The Center for American Progress has outlined four post-veto strategies for Congress to continue to ratchet up pressure and hold Bush accountable on Iraq. The scenarios include: 1) limiting the funding to shorter intervals; 2) setting standards for military readiness; 3) holding the Iraqi government and the Bush administration accountable for progress on enforceable benchmarks in Iraq’s political transition; 4) and setting timetables for redeployment. “How Congress puts these tools to use will determine whether it can put our country’s national security priorities back in order despite President Bush’s obstinacy.”
ETHICS — INVESTIGATION FINDS FEDERAL PROCUREMENT CHIEF VIOLATED FEDERAL LAW: The Federal Times reported yesterday that “an Office of Special Counsel report has found that General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal officials from partisan political activity while on the job, sources say.” The violation occurred at a Jan. 26 “lunch meeting at GSA headquarters attended by Doan and about 40 other political appointees,” in which White House deputy director of political affairs Scott Jennings “gave a PowerPoint presentation that included slides listing Democratic and Republican seats the White House viewed as vulnerable in 2008, a map of contested Senate seats and other information on 2008 election strategy.” After the presentation ended, Doan asked how the GSA could help “our candidates” through targeted public events, according to other participants in the meeting. Doan has until June 1 to respond to the OSC report. “After Doan responds, the report will be sent to President Bush with recommendations that could include suspension or termination. The president is not required to comply with the suggestions.” Doan has previously testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where she claimed that she thought the meeting was appropriate.
IRAQ — IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION MIRED IN ‘MUD OF INCOMPETENCE’: The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, appeared before the House Foreign Relations Committee yesterday to “explain how billions of dollars of US taxpayers’ money had gone missing in Iraq in what [the committee members] called a disastrous effort to rebuild the country.” Bowen’s latest quarterly report found “that new facilities are crumbling” and that “[s]ome of the supposedly completed ventures are actually houses of cards, ready to collapse.” Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) also noted that “between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels of Iraqi oil were unaccounted for each day — representing [a loss of] $5m to $15m daily” and that Iraq “was still not producing either oil or electricity at rates that matched pre-war performance.” Bowen attempted to address the congressional criticisms stating, “This is not the Marshall plan. This is a reconstruction programme conducted virtually under fire.” He conceded, however, that “corruption among Iraqi institutions represents ‘a second insurgency‘ in terms of the challenge it presents” and that operations still suffer from “poor U.S. inter-agency planning and co-ordination.” Additionally, he said that anti-corruption probes are hampered by new Iraqi laws “that exempt ministers, any employee designated by a minister, and former ministers from prosecution.” In regards to American contractors in Iraq, Bowen said his office would soon publish the “results of investigations targeting Blackwater security contracts, Parsons Corp. and DynCorp International.”
ETHICS — GONZALES LIED TO SENATOR ABOUT PLAN TO INSTALL ROVE PROTEGE AS U.S. ATTORNEY: On Dec. 15, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) had their second phone conversation regarding the appointment of Karl Rove-protege Tim Griffin as the new U.S. attorney in Arkansas. In April 19 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said that when Pryor objected to Griffin’s appointment, Gonzales promised to find a different candidate. Gonzales said he recalled telling Pryor, “Well, then I cannot recommend him [Griffin] to the White House, because if you don’t support him, I know he will not be confirmed. We’ll look for someone else, and give me names that we ought to consider.” Yet a newly released Feb. 8 e-mail by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella shows that Gonzales made the decision to appoint Griffin “on or about December 15, 2006, after the second of the Attorney General’s telephone conversations with Sen. Pryor.” Therefore, despite assuring Pryor that he would “look for someone else,” Gonzales went ahead and appointed Griffin anyway. Additionally, four days after the meeting between Gonzales and Pryor, Sampson sent out an e-mail recommending that they “gum this [Griffin’s nomination] to death.” Sampson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Gonzales did not object to this plan at the time. Griffin continues to serve indefinitely as an “interim” U.S. attorney, even though the traditional 120-day term limit for interim prosecutors expired on April 20.
Former Justice Dept. spokesman Mark Corallo defended the partisan and potentially illegal hiring practices of Monica Goodling, claiming she “was trying to bring balance to the department.” The civil rights division, he argued, “has long been populated by ‘some of the most radical Democrats in the law.'”
U.S. soldiers in a Sunni neighborhood in west Baghdad “now openly declare pessimism for the mission’s chances, unofficially referring to their splinter of heavily fortified land as ‘the Alamo.'” One U.S. Army captain says Bush’s escalation plan has mobilized the terrorist movement. “I sometimes worry that this period will end up going down here as their surge, not ours.”
According to a new Fox News poll, “more voters say the situation in Iraq will be extremely important in deciding their 2008 vote for president than any other issue, including terrorism, health care and the economy.” President Bush’s approval rating stands at 34 percent in the poll.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has “effectively blocked a resolution to honor environmental author Rachel Carson on the 100th anniversary of her birth,” saying that her warnings about environmental damage have “put a stigma on potentially lifesaving pesticides” such as DDT.
“Unlike Muslim minorities in many European countries, U.S. Muslims are highly assimilated, close to parity with other Americans in income and overwhelmingly opposed to Islamic extremism, according to the first major, nationwide random survey of Muslims.”
“The jump in U.S. gasoline prices this year has so far drained consumers of an extra $20 billion, or about $146 for each passenger car in the country.” The average price for regular unleaded gasoline is currently a record $3.22 per gallon.
“A comprehensive immigration bill survived a significant test on Tuesday as the Senate voted to keep a provision that would let hundreds of thousands of temporary foreign workers enter the country each year.”
Fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias writes, “What has become clear [through the attorney purge] is that the ‘loyalty uber alles’ mentality has infected a wide swath of the Bush administration. Simple notions like right and wrong are, in their eyes, matters of allegiance, not conscience. … [The Justice Department] is in desperate need of leaders who place loyalty to the Constitution on a higher level than politics.”
And finally: Harvard is putting out a list of famous people it once rejected. Included in that list are investor Warren Buffett, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, CNN founder Ted Turner, and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). “Rejected is such a strong word,” Kerry told ABC News. “I prefer to think of it as crimson-challenged…besides I never would have fit in at a total jock school.”
In a 306-114 vote, the House yesterday passed legislation “that would curb President Bush’s power to appoint prosecutors indefinitely,” limiting interim U.S. attorneys’ terms to 120 days. The Senate has already approved the bill, and it now heads to Bush for his signature.
RHODE ISLAND: State Supreme Court announces “it will hear arguments on whether a same-sex couple married in another state may divorce in Rhode Island.”
NEW JERSEY: A Persian Gulf war veteran whom the United States has threatened to deport wins a hearing for his freedom.
NEW YORK: Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces a plan to improve poor New Yorkers’ access to healthful food and exercise.
LOUISIANA: State House panel approves ban on late-term abortions.
THINK PROGRESS: White House Press Secretary Tony Snow slams Al Gore’s book, says it should be “reprinted” because it calls out President Bush’s “deception.”
TAYLOR MARSH: Gore responds to Snow’s remarks.
AMERICA BLOG: “San Francisco Chronicle quotes known hate group as legitimate expert claiming gays molest kids.”
THE CRYPT: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is leading a bipartisan delegation to Greenland and Europe next week to tour a glacier and hold talks on global warming.
“Nationally, the average monthly food stamp benefit in fiscal 2005 was $94.05, or about $3 a day, according to the US Department of Agriculture.”
— Boston Globe, 5/19/07
“Prices are above $3 a gallon in every state except New Hampshire, New Jersey and South Carolina.”
— Consumer Affairs, 5/22/07