Dear Democrats: Here’s How to Fight in the Budget Fight

December 13, 2007 at 1:27 am

Today, the inevitable happened. Congress caved in to virtually all of President Bush’s budget requests.

Previously, I warned that the Democrats had painted themselves into a corner because they only see two alternatives: fund the war or cut funding altogether. And they’re afraid to cut funding for the war because of the political backlash. This lesson should have been learned from the first spending bill: don’t bluff unless you’re prepared to have your bluff called.

The Democrats claim that the inability to override a Presidential veto is blocking them. To some extent this is true. The Democrats lack a 60% “super majority” to override a veto.

But to me, it seems like there are still ways to use their position effectively. I’m not an elected representative of Congress, but I can think of at least a couple things they could do that would get us closer to a successful end to the war.

First, if I’m not mistaken, Congress authorized this war in 2002. I’m not going to be so naive as to say they should de-authorize it. That would never get past a veto. It’s basically the same situation as cutting funding.

What Congress could do, however, is to include in the funding bill a requirement where President Bush must justify the war each year in order for Congress to approve the money and re-authorize the war.

I’m not talking timetables or anything that could be said to be used to aid the enemy. Just tell us what the objective is, what we’re going to get for our investment, and how we’re going to measure success.

Corporate boards demand this from CEOs all the time. Tell us what your plan is and what we are going to get for the money.

This accomplishes several things:

  • If Bush vetoes, he is basically telling the country he won’t explain anything about Iraq.
  • If Bush vetoes and tells the American people he can’t say anything because it will aid the enemy (this is the most likely outcome), you need to stick to your guns and explain that this is a sensible business practice and ask him to explain how it is aiding the enemy.
  • If you frame the request properly, in terms of a sensible business practice, it puts Republicans on the defensive.
  • If Bush vetoes, you say: we want to give him the money, but he won’t tell us how he’s going to use it.
  • If Bush doesn’t veto, he has to explain what his plan for Iraq is and more light is cast on Iraq (hint: he doesn’t want this).

Either way you win.

If Bush and the Republicans are going to play the veto and filibuster game, there is plenty that Congress can do. Just remember to think through the consequences of playing end games.

The most likely outcome is that Bush would veto and say any details would aid the enemy. If you look at the heart of this argument, it doesn’t make sense. If free elections are the goal, for example, Bush is basically saying that the enemy would help to hold free elections so we would leave. Did he just say the enemy would help us hold free elections? Let the GOP supporters try to make this convoluted argument.

Now if I’m able to think of a way to fight the Republican veto, Democratic legislators out there should be able to think of others. So keep fighting!