Timetables for Withdrawal From Iraq and the Danger of Polls

The Democrats must pay off their left-wing which helped them become a majority party for the first time in a dozen years. Leaders from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) to Defense Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D.-Pa.) in the House and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-N.V.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) in the Senate have come up with bills which would impose timetables on the President’s request for another $100 billion to fight the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War.  The bills, although somewhat different, would impose benchmarks which the troops and the Iraqi government must achieve to avoid a more immediate withdrawal.

Of course, these drastic measures, which call for all the troops to be gone by the end of 2008, are not enough for the so-called “Peace Caucus,” which wants the troops out this year.

The question is, is this good politics? Clearly the effort is to micro-manage the wars via the Congress.

This never has been successfully done.  In Viet Nam and Angola Congress pulled the rug out from under the Nixon and Ford Administrations. In those cases it simply was a matter of denial of funds. The Administration had no choice.

In this case the Congress would be telling the Administration what it should and should not do.  So we would remain in Iraq for the next year and a half but what could and could not be done is spelled out in this supplemental appropriations bill.  First, can Speaker Pelosi get this through the House? There are a number of more moderate Democrats, elected in Republican districts, who don’t want to vote on this. While the public has turned big-time against the Iraqi War, the public also believes that there is only one commander in chief. They think Republicans can hang this bill around their necks. The House has a solid margin of Democrats. Pelosi enjoys 30 more seats than her opposition. Most likely she can strong-arm enough of these more moderate Democrats that she would prevail. She likely will let the extreme left offer its amendment first. It will lose but it will allow these hot-heads to blow off steam. Then the measure would be considered by the Senate. There are enough differences between the House and Senate bills that Murtha concedes House Democrats would need to negotiate with Senate Democrats.

It is unclear what would happen in the Senate. A couple of Democratic senators have hinted that they might oppose the measure. The Republicans have 49 seats. They need only 41 to filibuster. There are likely to be some Republicans who will defect to the Democrats. How many will depend upon Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.). McConnell held everyone together on the non-binding resolution against the surge. This is much tougher.
The White House has indicated that it will veto the bill. But will the President actually do so?  He again and again has threatened to veto measures, only to sign them at the last minute.

Whether Republicans can prevent a vote on the restrictions will be the job of Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R.-Miss.). He will report to the linority leader on the number of denators who are leaning toward voting for the withdrawal bill. The minority leader will then go to work, with meetings for each defecting senator in hopes of reducing their number.

McConnell believes fervently that there can be only one commander in chief and President Bush is he. In fact, it becomes a constitutional question if a bill tying the President’s hands were actually to pass both Houses: would it be constitutional? Some Republican Senators say they are thinking of trying to make this a test case before the Supreme Court of the United States.

My bet is on McConnell. I’ll bet he will keep almost all of the defecting senators in line. Then if only one Democrat crossed over that would create a tie, which Vice President Dick Cheney could break in favor of the Administration.

It really comes down to this. Most Democrats think the country is so fed up with the war that is why they won last November. Thus, in advocating a bill to require timetables for withdrawal (which Sen. Hillary Clinton [D.-N.Y.] has said she opposes because it would signal the enemy just when we would be gone) they are doing what the public wants. Republicans are convinced (and have survey research data to prove their point) that the public does not want to go this far. Who is correct? If Democrats are then their poll numbers will soar after this passes the House, if it does. If Republicans are they will witness an up tick in the polls. That is the curse of our times. Important public-policy questions are determined by the polls and not what is good for America.