by Kagro X
The fight within the House Democratic Caucus over the upcoming Iraq supplemental appropriations bill has broken down generally along Blue Dog/Progressive Caucus lines. Caught in the divide is the so-called Murtha Plan -- a mechanism that reportedly used the Congressional "power of the purse" to prohibit the use of appropriated funds for the deployment of troops who were not adequately trained, rested, armored, and combat ready. Additional differences have arisen over the use of the same "power of the purse" to give teeth to the so-called "benchmarks" for progress the president would be required to meet in order to continue to prosecute his war in Iraq.
Now, the bill's not public yet, but I'm told that the language most at issue reads like this:
Funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this or any other Act may not be obligated or expended to deploy or continue to deploy members or units of the Armed Forces in Iraq after the conclusion of the 180 day period for redeployment specified in subsections (c) and (d).
What are subsections (c) and (d) about? I'm informed that they're apparently the ones that lay out the so-called "benchmarks," which means this language -- since removed from the bill at the behest of the Blue Dogs -- was the mechanism for enforcing those benchmarks.
At the moment, it appears that the political calculus hinges on what happens with those "teeth." That is, the leadership's math goes like this: they figure they get and keep more Blue Dog votes by removing the ability to enforce the benchmarks than they lose from the Progressive Caucus, who think the president can't be trusted and will game the benchmarks and continue to humiliate and embarrass Congressional Democrats.
So as things stand now, the language is out, because by the leadership's count, there were more Blue Dogs at least implicitly threatening to vote against a bill that included it than there were Progressive Caucus members threatening to vote against a bill that excluded it.
Fair enough, from a purely political perspective.
But it begs the question: How serious were the Blue Dogs about that? And how would you find out?
With the enforcement language out of the bill, enough Blue Dogs have apparently signaled their consent so that it has a chance to pass, even over the objections of some number of Progressive Caucus members. It's a much more comfortable vote for the Blue Dogs now, though a much more uncomfortable vote for progressives, who view it as a matter of principle that the legislation take what concrete steps are possible to end the war. The flip side, of course, is that many Blue Dogs assert that it is a matter of principle for them that the Congress not "tie the president's hands" in conducting military operations.
But as we can see, procedure has intervened to give the advantage to the Blue Dogs. As the bill stands now, the enforcement mechanism cited above is out, though the Progressive Caucus may or may not be permitted to offer an amendment to put it (and other language aimed at forcing withdrawal) back in. The onus, then, is on the Progressive Caucus to either stand on principle and cast the tough vote that threatens to send the message that Democrats are divided by voting against a bill that's toothless, or to subsume that principle in order to give the Democrats a "win."
Will they choose to be "good Democrats" first, and principled progressives second? Is that even a fair description of the choice they're being given? Nobody can say for sure.
But what if the procedural decision had broken the other way? What if the enforcement mechanism had been left in, and the Blue Dogs had been offered the opportunity to bring an amendment to the floor to eliminate it? What do we think the outcome would have been in that case?
Then the game would have been very different. The onus would have been on the Blue Dogs to either stand on principle (here, that the president's hands not be "tied") and cast the tough vote that threatens to send the message that Democrats are divided by voting to remove the bill's teeth, or to subsume that principle in order to give Democrats a "win."
Do we see a quantum difference between the principles at stake in these two hypothetical votes? Do we see a difference in the likelihood that, put on the spot, the Blue Dogs or Progressives would be forced to buckle and cast the uncomfortable vote? Progressives, if they get to offer an amendment, would be asking to change the status quo to put teeth in. I see that as a vote more of them are likely to stick to their guns on. Blue Dogs, if the roles were reversed, would be taking the floor to ask that the teeth be taken out. I'm not nearly as sure that they'd really show up in numbers to do that.
But as things stand now, the pressure is on the Progressives and enforcement, as opposed to being on the Blue Dogs and benchmarks.
Are there other enforcement mechanisms in the bill? Maybe. Nobody's seen them yet. But I find it very telling that the provisions I've learned have been removed -- as well as who insisted they be removed -- has set up a vote that will require amending on the floor in order to change the status quo with respect to the power of the president vis-a-vis the Congress, rather than forcing those who prefer the status quo to amend the bill in order to freeze it in place. Which do you think would have won?