Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pelosi Pentagon supplemental has the votes

Rep. Maxine Waters reports in a conference call with 98 United for Peace & Justice representatives, still going on as I write, that the Democratic leadership appears to have the votes to pass its version of the supplemental. There are now only ten Democrats who will vote to oppose, which gives the leadership 222 (one Democratic member will be absent for the vote).

Last night the Rules Committee passed a rule for the bill that will give four hours of debate, starting right now. Louise Slaughter (Rules chair) is reading the rule on C-SPAN; no amendments will be permitted. There could in theory be a vote tonight; it may end up being tomorrow. (I'm puzzled about how this situation complies with the House rule, restored under Pelosi, that there be 24 hours to read legislation; I guess the clock starts running when the rule is voted in.)

Waters said there was considerable nervousness among the leadership, given the very tight margin they have, that the whole thing could pass and then fall apart on the motion to recommit -- if Blue Dogs get cold feet and bolt at that point. That'd be fine with me; let them get the blame, vote with Republicans, and feel the wrath of Steny Hoyer now and voters in their district later.

MoveOn's poll had a significant effect, giving enough cover to liberal Democrats already under pressure to peel off the last four or five to the leadership position.

This is the last time the regime will push a Pentagon supplemental on the Congress; future funding for the war and occupation will be contained in budget proposals. And there are avenues for ending the occupation apart from funding: withdrawing authorization for the occupation, simply mandating withdrawal, and/or impeachment.

Bring 'em on.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ray of hope: stop war on Iran before it starts

Since early January, two bills in the House that would forbid military action against Iran without a vote in Congress have been gathering support:

H.J.RES.14, by Walter Jones (R-NC). (Yes, the 'Freedom Fries' guy!)
H.CON.RES.33, by Peter DeFazio (D-OR)

Each has 30 or more cosponsors; Jones' bill even has some other Republicans signed on. (For the text of the bills, co-sponsor information, etc., search the bill numbers in Thomas and the new OpenCongress site.)

Two weeks ago, Jim Webb introduced a similar bill in the Senate, S.759. It has teeth because it forbids any spending on a military attack on Iran without a Congressional vote. Harry Reid expressed support for Webb's bill a few days before its introduction.

Webb hoped it could be attached to the Pentagon supplemental when that reaches the Senate, but is also willing to fight for it as a standalone bill if need be. Well, needs be, because Pelosi allowed no-attack-on-Iran-without-a-vote language to be stripped from the House version of the supplemental after objections from AIPAC-influenced members. To soften the blow for antiwar Dems, Pelosi reportedly has "privately" agreed to introduce a standalone bill that would accomplish the same thing.

If that happens, good; presumably a Pelosi bill would match Webb's closely. But if the Speaker drags her feet, as I'm betting she will, there's no need to wait around. Get your Representative onto either the Jones or DeFazio bill, and your Senators onto Webb's.

In April, another carrier (probably the Nimitz) will head to the Persian Gulf, ostensibly to relieve the Eisenhower. For several weeks, that will create a situation in which four three carriers are in a position to support airstrikes on Iran. This ain't no disco, this ain't no party; this ain't no foolin' around.

For arguments, inspiration, and information:

Webb's compelling floor speech on March 5, introducing S.759.

My thoughts of a year ago, which have not become outdated.

A recent full-page ad in the Washington Post by MoveOn and Physicians for Social Responsibility (.pdf)

Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution, who has been on this more steadily than most. The discussion in comments about what kinds of arguments to make is worthwhile (even if I do say so myself).


Bad faith and bitterness

It's been clear for a long time now that the Pentagon supplemental funding bill would be a tough call for almost everyone involved. Unfortunately, as too often happens when there are genuine policy and strategy disagreements, the leadership is trying to paper over them instead of allowing an honest discussion, and that ends up just deepening the division.

There's a perfectly respectable case to be made for the leadership proposal; Thomas Nephew makes it well. But to be able to settle for the half-loaf that the Pelosi bill represents, genuinely anti-occupation members need to get a shot at the whole loaf. Barbara Lee's fully funded withdrawal bill is the alternative.

If the Dem leadership were to allow a vote on that actual withdrawal bill (which is also 'clean' in the sense of not containing a bunch of domestic spending lures that no Pentagon supplemental should have), it would probably get close to 100 votes. If Pelosi and co. had enough guts/integrity to allow that vote before the vote on the leadership version, they'd probably end up getting all but three or so of those votes on the leadership bill, too.

As it is, the leadership is forcing antiwar Dems to take their bill or nothing (unless the Rules Committee chooses this moment to defy the Speaker; I'm not holding my breath). That could cost them as many as 15 Out of Iraq votes. Whether it does or not, that approach is definitely costing goodwill both within the caucus and at the grassroots. And the bitterness will only be escalated by the kind of strong-arming and threats Pelosi is using.

Meanwhile, conservative Dems and Republicans are being lured with honey: every compromise made has been in their direction. This double standard is what's made the Out of Iraq caucus members resentful to begin with; if the sweet talk doesn't attract enough votes to give the Pelosi proposal a chance, then things are only going to get uglier.

Speaking of dishonest, manipulative treatment of "the grassroots", MoveOn's email member poll on Sunday is infuriating on several grounds. If there'd been any intent to be transparent and actually express the will of their members, they'd have:
  • mentioned the existence of the Lee 'fund withdrawal' bill,
  • let members know the deadline for having poll votes counted, and
  • committed to reporting back as soon as possible after that with a vote count.

    Instead, just over 24 hours after putting out the poll, Tom Matzzie told reporters that MoveOn is backing the leadership proposal, and that it got over 80 percent support in the poll -- while declining to quote any numbers. A Daily Kos poll on Sunday, which only allowed a 'support' vs.'oppose' choice, came in at 51%-48% (7500 votes). MoveOn's report-back to its members hours after they talked to the press gave percentages, but no information on how many votes were received. Reviews ranged from harsh to balanced and sympathetic.

    Update: 21 March, 4:30 pm - John Stauber got MoveOn to admit that only 126,000 members voted in the poll, and has more harsh words for the organization's tactics. One of his points should be added to my criticisms above: In addition to there being no deadline given for voting, the subject line of the email, 'Important decision on Iraq', gave no hint that the reader's participation was urgently required.
    End update

    TrueMajority's poll of its members included the Lee bill as a choice, and resulted in their urging a 'no' vote on the leadership proposal. Potentially awkward, since TM is one of the sponsors of StandUpCongress, but that just increases my respect for them. The site, first announced by Tom Andrews at the United for Peace and Justice lobby day in late January, was clearly intended from the get-go to organize support for Murtha's original proposal, but that got off on the wrong foot.

    To put it mildly. That snake John Harris (closet Republican operative, former Washington Post editor, now co-founder of the Albritton-owned Politico, filling the Fox News niche for Capitol Hill) inserted the phrase 'slow bleed' as a characterization of the Murtha proposal in the first paragraph of his reporter's story on Feb. 15. The RNC picked it up and ran with it within an hour of the story appearing (grim details via ThinkProgress). Pelosi and company backed off immediately, and it's been all acrimony all the time ever since.

    Last week's charade in the Senate did nothing to curb suspicions that Democrats want to distinguish themselves from Republicans far more than they want to end the occupation of Iraq.

    Harry Reid's H.J.Res.9, a binding resolution to start troop withdrawal within 120 days and complete it by March 2008, was only announced late the week before. But it unexpectedly came to the floor on Wednesday, March 14, after a deal between the Majority and Minority leaders late Tuesday night. Evidence of bad faith:
  • Majority Leader Reid agreed to rules requiring 60 votes for passage.
  • There was no effort to involve grassroots antiwar organizations in pressuring possible swing Republican senators. Two Senate offices and an antiwar lobbyist were as surprised as I was by the sudden floor action. All assured me on Wednesday when I called that the debate would go on for a while, and there'd be no vote until sometime this week.
  • Yet the final vote on the resolution came just over 24 hours from the beginning of debate. Had there been any intention to gather the votes of any Republicans wavering on the issue, it would have been delayed until after the events marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion, filled with news and editorial coverage of antiwar activities and reflections on the issues surrounding the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
  • Democratic leaders expressed great satisfaction with the outcome, failing 48-50 on a vote almost completely along party lines. It couldn't be clearer that they didn't want more Republican votes, and that they were relieved not to be in danger of actually ending the occupation.

    Democratic leaders have failed to treat antiwar members of Congress and activists with respect by backing off of agreements immediately in the face of conservative opposition, not enlisting the help of grassroots organizations early in the process to move swingable Republicans and conservative Democrats, and not offering anything but threats to bring antiwar members back onside. Then they're going to blame us when the vote fails.

    It didn't have to happen this way.

    Labels: ,

  • Saturday, March 10, 2007

    The curse of self-appointed liberal "leadership"

    Via Laura Rozen, this news (from a subscription-only story at National Journal) makes my heart sink:

    Deciding not to pursue their individual agendas, about a dozen liberal groups that united at the beginning of the year to help House Democrats pass their first-100-hours legislative agenda are continuing to work together, this time on a campaign opposing President Bush's troop surge in Iraq.

    The groups are using the same grassroots strategy that proved successful in the previous Congress in helping Democrats to block GOP proposals for Social Security reform and budget cuts. These left-of-center organizations have traditionally worked only on domestic issues, but they are now fully engaged in pushing Congress to impose limits on the country's future involvement in Iraq.

    Led by three large organizations -- the Campaign for America's Future,, and USAction -- the groups have formed Americans Against Escalation in Iraq and have agreed to spend a combined $9.4 million on an electoral-style effort that includes canvassing and field operations, media advertising, phone banks, polling, and a press strategy.

    "Though we don't work on Iraq as an issue, the debate on the war was crowding out our domestic agenda," says Alan Charney, program director at USAction, a progressive economic advocacy group with field operations in 30 states. "Until Iraq is solved, we know it will be difficult to push the progressive agenda, so we decided that it was time to fight for a responsible redeployment of the troops."

    Why does it make my heart sink? Because these organizations aren't led by the grassroots, but by electoral operatives. They don't want to end the war; they want to get it out of the way as an issue. "Americans Against Escalation in Iraq"? As a representative of "Americans for Getting U.S. Troops Out of Iraq Two Years Ago," I see this as a party front, a potential obstacle to ending the occupation -- at best a high-maintenance ally. Americans are already against escalation in Iraq, in huge numbers. The point is to turn that into effective pressure on Congress to end the war.

    MoveOn is the only one of the organizations listed here that's at all vulnerable to pushback from large numbers of individual activists, and the only one that's made any significant contribution to antiwar organizing until now.

    USAction is the descendant of Citizen Action, with which I was involved for many years. This is completely typical of their politics: issues are instruments, nothing more. There's no recognition in that crowd of the need to work in a respectful way with the organizations that have been organizing for the last five years to prevent, and then to end, the war. Those of us who think the lives of Iraqis and Americans shouldn't be sacrificed to avoid any risk to the chances of Democratic candidates are "issue-heads" in the USAction worldview.

    No, they're not the enemy. But their arrogance, cynicism, and complacency make them dubious allies.