[Update: via email from John Kerry’s Senate office — Kerry will join Reid as a co-sponsor of Senator Feingold’s bill.]
The post-veto strategy is shaping up. Bob Geiger writes,
In anticipation of a Bush veto and the likelihood that they wonâ€™t be able to summon enough Republicans who care about the troops or public opinion sufficiently to override that veto, Senate Democrats are already rolling out a contingency plan that puts the GOP on notice about something very important: That they are going to be forced over and over again to be on the record as voting to strand our military men and women in the middle of a bloody civil war.
Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), long one of the gutsy leaders on the Democratic side of the Senate aisle, has announced that he will propose legislation immediately on return from this week’s break that will cut off all funding for the Iraq war in less than a year.
Upping the ante on another major showdown immediately following the expected Bush veto of the war-funding (and withdrawal) bill, is the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) supports the Feingold measure and has signed on as the bill’s first cosponsor.
On the other end of the wimp scale, Barack Obama believes the Senate will cave and pass a bill without the timeline because no one “wants to play chicken” over funding the troops.
“My expectation is that we will continue to try to ratchet up the pressure on the president to change course,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage.”
There are those who argue that would be a smart political move. I think they’re wrong; I think they’re misreading the public mood. I think a large majority of Americans would really like to see Congress stand up to Bush. On the other hand, the Dem political elite, long accustomed to caution and accommodation to the Right, are still tip-toeing. Jonathan Weisman writes in today’s Washington Post:
Leon E. Panetta, who was a top White House aide when President Bill Clinton pulled himself off the mat through repeated confrontations with Congress, sees the same risk. He urged Democrats to stick to their turf on such issues as immigration, health care and popular social programs, and to prove they can govern.
“That’s where their strength is,” Panetta said. “If they go into total confrontation mode on these other things, where they just pass bills and the president vetoes them, that’s a recipe for losing seats in the next election.”
Um, Mr. Panetta, that’s the same thinking that caused the Dems to get swamped in the 2002 midterm elections.
Republicans these days are full of helpful advice for the Dems.
Backed by a unified party and fresh from a slew of legislative victories, Democratic leaders appear to believe there is hardly any territory they cannot stray onto, a development that has Republican political operatives gleeful and some Democrats worried. Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, warned of a “political price” at the polls: “If they let their constituents and their ideology drive them past the point where the American people are comfortable, they will find how quickly the voters will react.” …
… Most Republicans are convinced the president will win his veto standoff over House and Senate war spending bills that would impose mandatory troop withdrawals from Iraq.
“It’s going to be like the government shutdowns” of 1995 and 1996, predicted Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). “The Democrats’ honeymoon is fixing to end. It’s going to explode like an IED.”
I don’t think the government shutdown episodes were anything like the potential standoff between Bush and Congress over Iraq. The shutdowns came out of a disagreement between Congress and President Clinton over the budget. At the time most Americans didn’t give a hoohaw about the budget. News reports were all about how much money was being wasted because of the shutdown and how citizens all over the country were being inconvenienced, including 2 million visitors turned away from closed national parks. Whatever principle Newt Gingrich was trying to stand on didn’t seem worth it to most folks.
Public reaction to the shutdown did explode on the Republicans like an IED, that’s true. But we’re looking at an entirely different set of facts here. In 1995, few Americans really understood (or cared) why Newt Gingrich was grandstanding over the budget. The Iraq War they understand — it’s a bleeping disaster. And they care about ending it with growing intensely. Read more about the false comparisons with the standoff episodes at Media Matters.
Back to the Weisman article in WaPo —
Even as their confrontation with President Bush over Iraq escalates, emboldened congressional Democrats are challenging the White House on a range of issues — such as unionization of airport security workers and the loosening of presidential secrecy orders — with even more dramatic showdowns coming soon.
For his part, Bush, who also finds himself under assault for the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, the conduct of the Iraq war and alleged abuses in government surveillance by the FBI, is holding firm. Though he has vetoed only one piece of legislation since taking office, he has vowed to veto 16 bills that have passed either the House or the Senate in the three months since Democrats took control of Congress.
Bills such as?
A House-passed bill would require the government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries, highlighting what Democrats consider a shortcoming of the president’s landmark Medicare prescription drug law. Bush has promised a veto.
A Senate-approved measure would allow screeners at the Transportation Security Administration to unionize, prompting a veto threat. White House opposition to that in 2002 led to a legislative standoff over the creation of the Department of Homeland Security that proved devastating to Democrats, who were painted as soft on terrorism.
That’s not the whole story. When Bush decided to support creation of a Department of Homeland Security (a sudden flipflop) he inserted the anti-union provision into the bill as a “poison pill.” When Democrats balked at the bill because of the anti-union measure, Republicans hollered that the Dems were against a Department of Homeland Security (actually they had been pushing for it while Bush fought against it) and thus “soft on terrorism.” Most people who heard the Republican charge didn’t understand why the Dems were opposed to Bush’s version of a Department of Homeland Security.
A bill to ease the public release of official papers from presidential libraries also yielded a veto promise, although it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The measure would reverse one of Bush’s executive orders, which has helped keep reams of presidential documents under lock and key.
Budgets passed by the House and Senate assume the expiration of most of Bush’s tax cuts in 2012, and Democrats are demanding tough new standards for labor rights and environmental regulations as a condition of extending the president’s authority to expedite trade negotiations.
The White House has also vowed to block two separate House bills that would extend whistle-blower protections to national security and rail security workers.
My sense of the public mood — which I admit may be warped, since I live in one of the bluer blue states — is that a majority of Americans are leaning toward the Dem view on most of these issues. I don’t see how a Bush veto would hurt them politically one bit.
On the other hand, Dem attempts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and repeal the Patriot Act could still be politically dicey. The poll numbers I found on Gitmo and the PA were about a year old, and at the time approval-disapproval was at about fifty-fifty split.
Public education is critical. IMO the more the public knows about these issues, the more likely they will side with Democrats. The less they know, the more likely they will be taken in by Republicans.
Update: Russ Feingold writes “How Congress can end the war without hurting the troops” in Salon.