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Democrats bait and switch

Betray voters, okay war funds

Published May 31, 2007 12:39 AM

In a maneuver stunning for its cynicism, Democrats in Congress, fearful of the ire of their anti-war constituents, found a way to support President George Bush and provide continued funding for the war in Iraq while claiming that they were voting against the war.

The Democratic majority elected last November with promises to act against the war maneuvered to strip the war funding bill of any timetable for troop withdrawals or even mandatory benchmarks. They gave Bush all the funds he had demanded and more.

Politicians are notorious for speaking out of both sides of their mouths. They are often charged with being double dealing and two faced, but this week’s bill involved a new contortion.

This total capitulation to the war machine was hidden in a double vote arranged by splitting the bill in two parts. Democrats are hailing the second part of the bill, a provision for $17 billion in new domestic spending and an increase in the minimum wage, as a major victory.

In essence, after four months of debate, discussion and grandstanding as war opponents, the Democrats arranged for the passage of a bill that was allegedly opposed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a majority of her party.

In her position as the leader of the majority party in Congress, Pelosi has control of which measures actually reach the congressional floor for a vote. She arranged to send the war funding bill to Congress and then claimed to vote against the provision of $100 billion for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The convoluted voting procedure in the House called for two different, separate votes on one bill. One vote was on the $100-billion war funding. Members of Congress, including Pelosi, could vote against this section—but too few would vote against it to defeat the bill. Then they could vote for the second section of the bill for the $17 billion for agricultural subsidies, Gulf Coast rebuilding, and funds for veterans, the military and child health care. The “deal” was that Republicans and right-wing forces could vote against this provision.

The two sections were then automatically merged and sent to the Senate, without a final vote. This spared the Democrats a roll-call vote on money for the war, and it spared the Republicans a vote on basic social spending programs.

The final bill was a back room negotiation between the House and Senate. Senate majority leader Harry Reid also maneuvered to bring a similar bill to the Senate that he, in his position, could have prevented.

The result was that top Democrats in both House and Senate, including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, could safely vote against funding the war—yet the Democratic Party leadership had assured the passage of the war funding bill.

Politicians’ dilemma

The vote was not the result of weak or indecisive leadership, nor was it just the usual political bargaining for votes. It was the clearest example of the dilemma facing U.S. corporate power and its control of the two-party system in the U.S.

These politicians are caught between the overwhelming opposition to the war from the masses, the growing fear of a disastrous outcome and the enormous stake in the region that U.S. multinational corporations hold. The U.S. cannot stabilize the occupation of Iraq due to the determined opposition from the Iraqi masses. Yet U.S. imperialism cannot bear to let go of such a source of fabulous wealth and power.

The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to provide or deny funds for government activities. Thus, Congress can fund or refuse to fund a war. Congress could, if it had the political will, end the war in Iraq tomorrow by using its power over appropriations to cut off funds that keep the war going.

But actually cutting the Pentagon’s funding is the very step that the Democratic majority refuses to take. Because the war is unsuccessful and unpopular, they are more than willing to speak against it. But because their elected positions are based on defending imperialist interests—and dependent on corporate donations—they fear to act against the war in a decisive way.

Even a determined congressional minority of Democrats could block the funding for the war—if they had really decided to end the war. They could disrupt and filibuster. They could call on people from around the country to surround Congress. Instead, while posing as the “anti-war” majority party, the Democrats have capitulated to Bush and the Pentagon.

A few voices of opposition

One of the few Democrats who expressed a consistently anti-war position in this debate, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, exposed the cynical strategies of the Democratic leadership, who inserted an increase in the minimum wage into the war funding bill.

“It tells American workers that the only way they will get an increase in wages is to continue to support funding the war which is taking the lives of their sons and daughters,” Kucinich said. “First, blood for oil. Now, a minimum wage for maximum blood. Aren’t the American people giving enough blood for this war without having to give more to have a wage increase?”

Congressperson Barbara Lee, who voted against the current Iraq war funding and previously condemned the Iraq bill, asked: “Mr. Speaker, in 2003 Congress approved a $78 billion dollar supplemental. In 2004 it was $87 billion. In 2005 it was $82 billion. In 2006 it was $72 billion. And now the administration wants almost $100 billion more?”

The deep frustration of millions of people who are opposed to the war and had faith in the Democratic Party to carry out their mandate was expressed in a public letter to the Democrats in Congress by Cindy Sheehan.

She wrote on May 26: “Congratulations Congress, you have bought yourself a few more months of an illegal and immoral bloodbath. And you know you mean to continue it indefinitely so ‘other presidents’ can solve the horrid problem BushCo forced our world into. It used to be George Bush’s war. You could have ended it honorably. Now it is yours and you all will descend into calumnious history with BushCo. ...

“As for myself, I am leaving the Democratic Party. You have completely failed those who put you in power to change the direction our country is heading. ... We gave you a chance, you betrayed us.”

The letter was signed, “Cindy Sheehan, Founder and President of Gold Star Families for Peace. Founder and Director of The Camp Casey Peace Institute. Eternally grieving mother of Casey Sheehan.”

The capitalist ruling class always wants to divert the mass movement into safe channels—into lobbying and voting and trusting in the bought-and-paid-for politicians. The challenge is to develop clear demands that move the struggle into the streets.

September—the next congressional vote

The next critical votes on the war are expected to be cast in September, when the House and Senate debate war funding for 2008. According to the Associated Press (May 26), the September votes probably will come after Iraq war commander Gen. David Petraeus tells Congress whether Bush’s troop buildup plan is working. Also due by September is another government assessment of progress made by the Iraqi government.

The Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC) has circulated widely a proposal to the anti-war movement to hold an encampment outside the Capitol starting Sept. 22 and culminating in a mass march on Sept. 29. The encampment has the potential to ensure that another war vote does not go unchallenged. The proposal opens an opportunity for an independent intervention representing millions of workers and oppressed people.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are committed and loyal to the same imperialist system of corporate rule, based on private ownership of the resources and labor of all of society on a global scale. Without this basic understanding of the U.S. political system, the struggle for change can lead to demoralization and confusion.

If there is no strong political intervention from below, then weak, non-binding resolutions and continued war funding can demoralize the mass opposition to the war. Militant action independent from both capitalist political parties is the only way that millions of poor and working people will gain an understanding of the system that oppresses and impoverishes them.