War Funding Would Break Dem Promises
To the critics, whether anti-war activists or House Republicans, Pelosi has made her feelings clear: Get over it.
This week's maneuvering over a $200 billion war spending bill has revealed Pelosi self-confidently playing what she believes - with increasing evidence - is a strong hand.
Strong enough that she is expected to break one promise - her 2006 pledge for a more open and inclusive committee process - by circumventing the powerful House Appropriations Committee on the Iraq bill.
And when the final Iraq bill reaches the president's desk, any troop withdrawal conditions are likely to be gone from the legislation. That is another 2006 pledge that has fallen by the wayside.
Pelosi's calculation, say political analysts, seems clear. Democrats are using the Iraq bill as leverage for billions of dollars in domestic spending priorities. As for anti-war activists, they seem to accept the speaker's logic: More than 40 previous Iraq votes have left Democrats maxed out in terms of legislative efforts to dictate an end to the war over a veto-wielding President Bush.
Most of all, the early signs are that there will not be a backlash from voters. Democratic victories in recent special elections - Don Cazayoux in Louisiana and Bill Foster in Illinois - suggest that individual candidates are not suffering from the low public approval ratings that are afflicting the Democratic Congress.
House Republicans, protesting the bypassing of the Appropriations Committee, promise floor theatrics, with numerous floor votes when the Iraq bill comes for a House vote.
Explaining the threatened tantrum, Jo Maney, spokeswoman for Republicans on the House Rules Committee, said: "You said you were going to do something and you didn't. They are using process for political objectives."
Democrats countered that Republicans wanted to slow down progress on the floor. "Voters are frustrated about Iraq, but they know Democrats have pushed to bring the war to a responsible end," said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.
Some important voices in the anti-war movement, meanwhile, are not blaming Democratic leaders for the inability to move war policy despite the 2006 campaign promises.
"People appreciate the leadership of the party have pushed this issue and advanced this cause," said Tom Andrews, the head of Win Without War. "Are we frustrated? Yes. But do we understand the dynamics [of Congress]? Yes. We're doing everything we can."
Political analysts also say voters don't care about procedural power plays, and those who care about the war realize that Democrats have stymied filibusters and vetoes when they tried to force troop withdrawals.
"In general, the public associates the war with Republicans and the president - there doesn't seem to be any political fallout for Democrats," said Julian Zelizer, a political science professor at Princeton University. "This [election] is not about the will of the Democrats to stop this war. ... And Republicans can't focus on Democrats' abuse of power. Democrats have only been in power two years."
Even so, the next few weeks will be a tightrope walk for Democratic leaders as they negotiate what is essentially the last major bill of the year and the last big fight with the Bush administration.
First, Pelosi will have to soothe the egos of committee chairmen like Dave Obey (D-Wis.) and John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) if she bypasses the committee process and strong-arms a bill through the House.
In her campaign pamphlet in 2006, which is still posted on the speaker's website, Pelosi declared that "bills should be developed following full hearings and open subcommittee and committee markups, with appropriate referrals to other committees."
If that promise is not upheld, Republican strategists say the GOP will be justified in creating as much procedural havoc as possible over the next few days, and California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, has warned of GOP floor protests.
"The Democrat leaders of the House and Senate are attempting to jam a 200-plus-billion-dollar spending bill through the Congress, with absolutely no oversight or scrutiny by the vast majority of members, senators or their constituents," Lewis wrote Monday in a letter to Obey. "Never in my 30 years in Congress has there been such an abuse of the processes and rules of the House."
When Republicans ran the House, however, they frequently bypassed committee, engineered strict procedural rules and, most notably, once held a vote open for three hours on a landmark Medicare drug bill. Still, Lewis points out that the GOP never skipped committee on an Iraq funding bill.
Democratic leadership aides don't dispute the fact that the majority has been unable to keep this promise of open committee debate, yet they lay the blame on Republicans in the House who have crafted one poison pill after another to wreak procedural havoc on otherwise noncontroversial bills.
The final version of the Iraq bill - the one that reaches the president's desk - will inevitably fund the troops with no strings attached, aides from both parties admit. Sure, there will be a conscience-soothing vote on a troop withdrawal timetable, but Democrats acknowledge such provisions will yet again fail to make it to the final version.
"The troops will get what they need," said one Democratic aide.
In 2006, Democrats promised to "ensure 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty ... with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces."
And even though anti-war activists have been hard on Democrats for failing to live up to this campaign promise, they believe the blame will lie with Bush and congressional Republicans for the failure to move war policy.
"Voters need to know Democrats are fighting for an end to this war," said Nita Chaudhary, a top official at MoveOn.org, a leader in the anti-war movement. "Voters are smart enough to know who really stands in the way in terms of an end to the war."
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