Some readers probably heard on the news how the Democrats were hopping mad when the House Republicans voted recently to overturn the "sequester" on the Pentagon budget, enacted at the end of the year as part of the deficit reduction deal. With that money restored, House Republicans cheerfully went about their business of making up the difference by slashing food stamps, Medicaid for children, federally supported Meals-on-Wheels for the elderly and other programs that help the most vulnerable. Democrats were united in opposing this move and promptly incorporated it into the campaign narrative of hard-hearted, mean-spirited Republicans, whom they are determined to challenge and expose come November.
But one odd thing occurred last week. In the House Armed Services Committee, when the Republicans put forward a sequester- busting $642.5 billion for the 2013 Defense Authorization bill, Democrats on the Committee overwhelmingly supported it in a lop-sided vote of 56-5.
In every respect this is an appalling bill. Apart from the colossal waste of money, it includes $88 billion for a war in Afghanistan that the majority of Americans oppose; nuclear upgrades that threaten non-proliferation agreements; programs and weapons that even the Pentagon doesn't want. The bill also promotes reckless threats on Iran, enables reckless actions by Israel and once again prohibits the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.
On Thursday Representative Barbara Lee, who has been valiantly opposing the war in Afghanistan before it even began, introduced amendment #158 that would limit funding for the war to the safe and responsible removal of all US troops and security contractors from the country. Showing greater strength than previously, 113 members of the House voted in favor. It's a sign of progress, albeit snail-like, that this many Representatives were willing to stand up and take a clear position. On the other hand, it's a remarkable commentary on our democracy that 303 Representatives voted to continue a war, which the American public now rejects.
Throughout this week Congressional progressives and libertarians have been battling for valuable amendments that would curtail drone attacks, prevent a military confrontation with Iran and strike out "indefinite detentions." However, at the end of the day, HR 4310 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) remains an outrageous bill, which no self-respecting member of Congress should be supporting. Partisan rhetoric must not be allowed to obscure the reality that if this over-sized military budget passes the Congress, it will be paid for by the middle and working class and especially the poor.
It makes no sense to excoriate Republicans for lifting the sequester on military spending and then yielding to their request for $642.5 billion for the Pentagon.
This inconsistency persists when constituents are not paying attention to what their elected officials are up to. On Friday May 18, it will be easy to follow the story: members of Congress will be voting on the FY 2013 Defense Authorization. Every person in reach of a cell-phone can do something useful today: call your Representative's office and make it clear that voters are paying attention and that if he or she continues to feed the war-machine at the expense of truly urgent human needs, they should not expect constituent support come November.