Congress proposes $50 billion more in Iraq war funding

The Democratic leadership in Congress Thursday unveiled its new tactic for passing another round of supplementary funding for the US wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that the proposed measure will not be another “blank check” for the Bush White House. Rather, the checks are to be issued on the installment plan.

While the Bush administration has requested $196 billion for the fiscal year that began in October, the House measure would offer $50 billion to pay for the wars until March.

“This is not a blank check for the president,” Pelosi told a Capitol Hill press conference. “This is providing funding for the troops limited to a particular purpose, for a short time frame.”

Attached to the measure is a rehash of language introduced in previous bills mandating that troop withdrawals begin and that soldiers and Marines deployed in combat zones be provided equal time deployed at their home bases for recuperation and retraining. It also sets a goal of ending US “combat” operations by December 2008, while including provisions for troops remaining behind for “narrow” missions.

These missions include counterterrorism, meaning the continued suppression of Iraqi resistance to US occupation; protecting US assets, which will no doubt include not only the massive US embassy being constructed in Baghdad, but also the installations of American oil conglomerates; and the training of Iraqi puppet troops. These “narrow” missions would mean the continued occupation of Iraq by tens of thousands of American troops for the foreseeable future.

The language in the proposal, including the call for a phased and partial withdrawal of US troops, closely tracks similar provisions attached to war-funding legislation that either died in the Senate or was vetoed by Bush last May.

Asked at the press conference whether tacking this language onto the war funding was merely an attempt to placate antiwar sentiment among Democratic voters, or if she saw a change in Congress that would allow its passage, Pelosi launched into a rhetorical attack on Bush’s war policy, dodging the question.

“We are restating the differentiation between us and the president of the United States,” said Pelosi. “This gives voice to the desires of the American people.”

In other words, the supposed challenge is nothing but hot air. Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership refuse to exercise the one power in the hands of Congress to actually force an end to the war—rejection of any further funding. Such a complete cutoff of money to wage the war requires a simple majority vote against funding measures and would be immune from presidential veto power.

While the Democratic leadership routinely justifies its refusal to take such a course of action in the name of “supporting the troops,” the reality is that this party continues to support the aims of colonial conquest for which the war was launched in the first place, whatever its tactical differences with how it has been waged by the Bush administration.

This position was spelled out explicitly by the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland Thursday in a meeting with reporters. Hoyer defended his 2002 vote giving the Bush administration authorization to launch the war against Iraq. “Removal of Saddam Hussein was an appropriate policy,” he said. “I still believe that.” He added that his only regret about voting for the war was not knowing “how incompetently it would be executed.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate Wednesday to deliver a speech noting that, with the deaths of another six US troops, 2007 has become the deadliest year for the American occupation forces since the war began more than four and a half years ago.

Reid’s conclusion, however, was far from a demand that the war end. Rather he stated, “It is time to rebuild our military to refocus on the war on terror and the grave challenges that face us throughout the globe.”

He continued: “We must repair the readiness of our Army and Marine Corps, the finest fighting force in the world, but a force which is under great strain. We must be prepared to respond to new challenges. We must have the strength and flexibility to promote freedom and defend human rights when they are attacked.” In this context, he mentioned the crisis in Pakistan as showing “that the world can change overnight.”

In conclusion, the Senate Democratic leader vowed that his party would “continue to give our troops and all Americans the new course in Iraq that they deserve.” The choice of the words “new course” clearly spells out that what is envisioned is not an end to the war but its continuation based on a somewhat altered strategy.

What clearly emerges from the latest antiwar feint in Congress is that the Democrats are going to continue to pay for and support a war that has killed ore than 1 million Iraqis and claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 US troops.

House and Senate negotiators have already reached an agreement on a $459 billion military-spending bill that will allow the Pentagon to continue paying for the Iraq war on a stopgap basis over the next period as the political charade plays out between Congress and the White House.

Proposals to attach language to the Pentagon funding bill barring the transfer of funds from other programs to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were scuttled, meaning that the Pentagon can use money from the regular budget to finance the cost of the wars and occupations while it awaits passage of the separate “emergency” funding bill.

Moreover, both houses of Congress passed a continuing resolution in September that allows federal agencies to continue operating at the funding levels approved the previous year. The resolution, designed to prevent a government shutdown until regular appropriations bills are passed for the new fiscal year, allows the Pentagon to continue pouring approximately $5.8 billion a month into the war, with the money taken from the regular Pentagon budget only to cover the increased costs, much of which stem from the “surge” that sent more than 30,000 additional US troops into the country.

Democratic leaders have indicated that they will renew the continuing resolution this month, thereby quietly voting to continue paying for the war at the same level that Congress approved last year.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Congress has already appropriated $412 billion for the Iraq war since the US invasion of March 2003. The CBO also issued an estimate that put the total cost of the war at $1.9 trillion, which includes the long-term healthcare costs for veterans and the interest on borrowed money being used to finance it. The total cost for both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was estimated at $2.4 trillion. Significantly, the CBO estimate assumed that 75,000 US troops will remain in both countries through 2017, with roughly two thirds of them in Iraq.

This assumption by the CBO—a non-partisan agency that provides economic and budget analyses to Congress—reflects the emerging consensus between the two major parties. One year after the midterm elections that shifted control of Congress to the Democrats and one year before the 2008 presidential elections, the Democrats and Republicans are agreed that the war and occupation in Iraq must continue for many years to come.

This bipartisan agreement effectively disenfranchises the vast majority of the American people, who oppose the war. The latest poll issued Thursday by CNN found antiwar sentiment at a record high, with 68 percent of the population against the war and only 31 percent in favor, with 1 percent expressing no opinion.

The poll also found 70 percent opposed to US military action against Iran.

Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday found overwhelming dissatisfaction with the US Congress, with only 31 percent saying that they approved of “the job of congressional Democratic leaders”—down 10 points from when the same question was asked last February.

A clear plurality of those polled—47 percent—said that the Democratic congressional leadership has not gone far enough in challenging Bush’s war policy. Among those who identified themselves as Democrats, the figure was an overwhelming 65 percent.