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Friday, May 25, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo, Congress Passes Deadline-Free War Funding Bill:

Congress sent President Bush a new Iraq funding bill yesterday that lacked troop withdrawal deadlines demanded by liberal Democrats, but party leaders vowed it was only a temporary setback in their efforts to bring home American troops.

War opponents dismissed the bill as a capitulation to Bush and said they would seek to hold supporters in both parties accountable. But backers said the bill’s provisions — including benchmarks for progress that the Iraqi government must meet to continue receiving reconstruction aid — represented an assertion of congressional authority over the war that was unthinkable a few months ago.

Setting aside the question of the merits of the bill, I would note that this underscores what I have been arguing about the fight over Iraq funding from the beginning: it is politically very difficult for a Congress (any Congress) to deny funding to troops in the field. This is even true with the remarkably low public opinion on the war and in spite of the Democratic victory at the polls last November.

In terms of pure politics and the difficulty of getting major outcomes out of our government, it is not a surprise to me that the confrontation between the Congress and the President over Iraq funding has ended up as it has.

As I noted on January 8, 2007:

the practicality of the matter is that there is very little that the Congress can do to force a withdrawal. Talk about cutting funding is so much empty rhetoric. It isn’t like there is this extry-special “Iraq Only” account that they can freeze. And we won’t even get into the political fallout of cutting off money to troops in harm’s way.

Yes, as was noted in the comments at the time, the Congress can refuse to continue funding, but again: the likelihood of such a move always seemed almost nil to me, and the current legislation supports my position. If the Congress is unwilling to cut the funding with public opinion where it is at at the moment, I am not sure what it would take (at least in the short term) for them to do so.

I expressed skepticism here as well (as well as in numerous other posts).

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6 Responses to “The Political Realities of Troop Funding”

  1. Political Mavens » The Political Realities of Troop Funding Says:

    [...] Cross-posted from PoliBlog: [...]

  2. Political Mavens » The Political Realities of Troop Funding Says:

    [...] Cross-posted from PoliBlog: [...]

  3. MSS Says:

    I know what it would take: the courage to implement the clear democratic preference of the electorate.

  4. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    Easier said than done, it would seem. Which, I guess, is my basic point.

    Also, though, I am not sure it is ever that simple–legislatures, politicians and institutional structures being what they are…

  5. Jan Says:

    And I’m not sure that you could get even the majority of the electorate to cut off funds to the troops with them in a theater of war. Bring them home, maybe, but not cut funds, per se.

  6. CPT D Says:

    It is also not clear to me that it was the intent of our government to always follow the “clear preference of the electorate”. Were that the case the founders would not have established an executive branch, and may not have chosen a representative democracy at all as a method of governance. We are not a direct democracy; we vote to empower other people, and once in power, they are not obligated to do what the popularity contests say the people want at the moment.

    What happened here is what should have happened, because the executive branch – regardless of our feelings about this particular war – needs to remain empowered over the military. Erroding that would weaken our nation enormously and create a situation where, even in clear-cut emergencies, the executive branch had to negotiate for the resources that it needs in order to maintain the United States of America as a world power.

    The suggestion that the elected (the president in particular) need to be held accountable is well taken, and there is a provision for that in our constitution, also – the next election. President Bush will not be in power forever, and the time will come, very soon, when we put someone else in his place. Having been duly elected, however, it is his responsibility to act in a manner that he believes to be in the best interest of the country. That’s the law. There is nothing in the law of the land that says he needs to follow the gallup polls.

    I’ve long said that the Iraq war (and I served in it myself and have mixed feelings about its eventual success or failure and have from the beginning), however we may feel about it, is not such a travesty and great transgression of power that it is worth damaging the executive branch over. I’ve lost friends to it, but by any reasonable measure, from our end, it is a minor war. It has produced a fraction of the casualties of any other major conflict that we’ve been involved in in the last hundred years, and the impact on the entire world has not been what some suggest. This is not World War 2, with much of the world lain to waste and tens of millions of lives (more, if you consider subsequent deaths to disease and political turbulence) spent. It’s not even Vietnam. A bad situation, yes; one we ought to think about getting ourselves out of eventually, yes; but to consider the drastic errosion of the executive branch that would follow from the passage of the previous iterations of this funding bill (the ones demanding a timetable for withdrawal) over the Iraq war is a reaction disproportionate to the reality of the situation, and the willingness to throw the system on the pyre for what is at the moment politically popular or unpopular is disturbing.

    Our government was intended to represent a balance of several political philosophies. The Constitution is a brilliant document, itself the product of compromise – compromise between the idea of a direct democracy and empowerment of the people, and a strong, central, executive-style body that can act quickly and decisively when necessary. It is a compromise between those who wanted a strong central leadership, which (presumably) has better information about the world, and is better equipped to make decisions than the population at large; and those who believe the people are smart enough to govern themselves.

    Without attacking the merits of this spending bill, it is my opinion that what just happened is exactly what should have happened, and it brings me some comfort to see that compromise is still at work in our government.


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