I’ve made no secret of my opposition to the war in Iraq, even when that was a relatively lonely position to take. Recently, though, I have been inclined to think the Democrats dishonored the antiwar movement by loading so much pork-barrel spending onto the recent funding legislation passed by both houses of Congress – which, if you’ve been living on another planet for the last few weeks, is the legislation that includes a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. President Bush has been using this talking point fairly well lately, and his attack on the vote-buying nature of pork certainly resonates better with me than any defense he has ever made of the war itself.
Well, not so fast. According to yesterday’s Washington Post, this is not by any means the first time that pork-barrel spending has been loaded onto “emergency” funding measures for the war in Iraq. (BTW, how many years do you suppose the administration can get away with leaving this out of the budget and treating it as an “emergency” measure, as if the fighting just sort of flared up unexpectedly? But I digress.) The Post suggests that because non-germane spending has been attached to each of the preceding appropriations for Iraq, it is really a matter of opinion whether the pork in this bill is really designed to buy votes or is instead just a way of expediting appropriations that would otherwise be bottled up in the “normal” process that has grown so predictably slow and ineffective.
This is, of course, just another instantiation of the principle that what goes around comes around. In that respect, it is of a piece with the difficulties the Bush administration is now having with Congressional oversight: Whatever merit there may be in the Bush administration’s arguments about Congressional interference with executive function, the Democratic Congress has a very long way to go before it matches the record of Dan Burton and others when the GOP controlled Congress.
The sins of the GOP, however, are not a sufficient excuse for the Democrats, in this or any other case. Congress’s political standing to interfere with the administration’s war policy in Iraq is based entirely on the claim that if Congress does not support the war then neither does the nation. A vote on any question of that magnitude should not be tainted by the sort of legalized bribery that dominates legislative campaigns of less consequence. The funding bill should be stripped of any spending provisions that are not directly related to the support of troops in Iraq. It will then pass, timetable and all, or it will fail. If it fails, the Democrats should strip the timetable and vote again. Then and only then, we’ll know what the people, through their representatives, really want to do in Iraq.
All too often the administration has argued that citizens forget their patriotic duty when they oppose a war the President is prosecuting. The truth is that the President forgets his patriotic duty when he prosecutes a war the people are opposing. Let’s find out whether that’s what is happening.