The nation has arrived at an important political moment, a turning point in Congressional efforts to confront the President on his failed war. The House has passed, and as we went to press the Senate was on its way to passing, military spending bills that include benchmarks and timelines for bringing the troops home.
These actions did not come about simply because members of Congress suddenly saw the folly of Bush’s war. Rather, they occurred because politicians listened to their constituents: the antiwar activists once dismissed as unpatriotic or worse, the parents whose sons and daughters are being forced to return to Iraq for second and third tours of duty, the ordinary citizens who no longer believe the lies of the Administration about why we invaded Iraq or why we need to stay. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, who had refused to support a withdrawal date just two weeks earlier, was among those who voted to reject a Republican effort to strip the timeline from the Senate spending bill. His explanation for the change of heart? “People want our troops home.” The earfuls Nelson and others are hearing in their districts are reinforced by the findings of a new Pew Research poll, which reports that 59 percent of Americans surveyed want their representative to support withdrawal by August 2008.
To be sure, the votes were not easy ones, given the bills’ uncertain benchmarks and the fact that their main focus was on providing yet more money for the Administration’s war effort. Some antiwar members in the House simply could not bring themselves to join the razor-thin 218-212 majority. We respect those, like Congressman John Lewis, who told the House, “I will not and cannot vote for another dollar or another dime to support this war.” But we also understand the sentiments of those like Representative Maurice Hinchey, who voted in favor. Had the House not passed the bill, Hinchey said, “Congress would have essentially been forced to hand the President a massive check to continue the occupation of Iraq with no benchmarks for success and no timeline for withdrawal.”
The two chambers will have to reconcile bills that, while similar in intent, differ in specifics. But it is now all but certain that whatever version goes to the President will contain some form of deadline and benchmarks. Bush says he will veto a bill that seeks to tie his hands, and there’s little question that a veto would be sustained, given the narrow margins of victory in both houses. Whether the two sides will decide to compromise or pursue a showdown remains to be seen.
But whatever happens from here on, a significant marker has been laid down. The House and Senate bills put Congress at the table for the first time since this war began, and offer the first Congressional challenge to Bush’s warmaking. The task now for progressives is to continue to push in every way possible for a speedy end to the war, moving ever-greater numbers of members of Congress into the column of those whose consciences no longer allow them to support anything but swift withdrawal. That is now the essential struggle for all who hold out the hope that this war will yet end before the finish of George Bush’s presidency.