Funding the War: There Ought to Be a Rule Against This Kind of Rule

Last week, the House debated whether to appropriate $33 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But no votes were influenced during the three-hour debate, because the vote had already taken place.
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Last week, for three hours, the House debated whether to appropriate $33 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were passionate arguments on both sides, with thunderous words from those who seek withdrawal from Afghanistan, and forceful warnings from the other side against undercutting the Commander-in-Chief.

I can say with certainty that the passion that was expended, the loud urging to vote "no" or "yes," actually did not influence anyone's vote. They couldn't influence anyone's vote.

Because the vote to fund the war actually had taken place three hours earlier.

It had been snuck into a very common -- and rarely substantive -- procedural vote known as a 'Rule'. A 'Rule' is a simple set of instructions on what bills and amendments the full House will vote on. It almost always passes on a routine, party-line vote.

This time, though, there was something different about the Rule. It contained arcane and baroque terms essentially saying -- without saying -- that upon passage of the Rule, the House agreed with the Senate to fund $33 billion more for the war.

This kind of rule is known as a 'self-executing rule.' It's a Rule that's more than just a Rule. In and of itself, this is not a problem.

But when we voted on this Rule, on the Floor of the House, I was told many times that I should vote for the Rule. I won't vote for more money for the war, I replied. To which I was told, this isn't war money, it's just a Rule.

Nope, it was war money. So I voted no.

And many of us seem to have caught on -- the Rule almost went down, passing by a very narrow 215-210.

But it didn't go down. And so we will sprinkle another $33 billion on the sands of Mesopotamia and the mountains of Bactria. I wonder how many of my colleagues knew that they were voting on war money when they voted on the Rule. I wonder how many might have voted differently, if they had known.

All it would have taken was three. Just three.

This is what it has come to. We fund the war by telling people that a vote for war money is not a vote for war money.

If these wars can only be funded through this kind of sleight of hand, they maybe shouldn't be funded at all.

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