Today is the day House Democrats are expected to vote on Iraq - except, news out of Washington this morning says the leadership has come up with a nifty little trick to try to prevent the public from seeing who voted for giving Bush a blank check, and who voted against it. If you thought Democrats were behaving like cowards by caving into a President at a three-decade low in presidential polling and giving him the very blank check they explicitly promised not to give him during the 2006 election, you ain't seen nothing yet. We are watching the rise of the Dick Cheney Democrats - that is, the rise of Democrats who endorse governing in secret and hiding the public's business from the public itself.
Here's how it is expected to work today in a process only Dick Cheney could love (though you never know - it could change at the last minute). Every bill comes to the House floor with what is known as a "rule" that sets the terms of the debate over the legislation in question. House members first vote to approve this parliamentary rule, and then vote on the legislation. Today, however, Democrats are planning to essentially include the Iraq blank check bill IN the rule itself, by making sure the underlying bill the rule brings to the floor includes no timelines for withdrawal, and that the rule only allows amendments that fund the war with no restrictions - blank check amendments that House Democratic leaders know Republicans will have the votes to pass.
This means that when the public goes to look for the real vote on the Iraq supplemental bill, the public won't find that. All we will find is a complex parliamentary procedure vote, which was the real vote. Democratic lawmakers, of course, will use the Memorial Day recess to tell their angry constituents they really are using all of their power to end the war, that they voted against the Republican blank check amendment which the rule deliberately propels, and that the vote on the rule - which was the real vote for war - wasn't really the important vote, when, in fact, they know very well it is the biggest vote on the war since original 2002 authorization for the invasion. It is a devious, deliberately confusing cherry on top of the manure sundae being served up to the American public, which voted Democrats into office on the premise that they would use their congressional majority to end the war. To read more on these deliberately complex machinations, see Congressional Quarterly's piece just out on the web.
All of this is happening at the time top Republican leaders are making ever more sociopathic statements at odds with mainstream public opinion. Today, as just one example, House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (R-FL) cheered on the blank check, telling Roll Call that "You drop Murtha [troop readiness standards], you drop withdrawal, the troops win." He doesn't explain how popular proposals to better equip and train American soldiers for combat and force the Bush administration to come up with a plan for redeploying troops out of harms way means "troops win."
If this secretive behavior seems familiar, it should. You may recall that in the past two weeks, the same Democratic leadership that is now trying to hide its votes on Iraq negotiated a secret free trade deal with the White House, steamrolling its other key Election 2006 pledge to stop lobbyist-written trade policy. The legislative texts of the trade pacts in question remain concealed from the public, though K Street lobbyists have told reporters they have received "assurances" that any of the much-touted provisions that purport to protect labor and the environment will be written to be unenforceable.
Not surprisingly, Democrats are reacting to questions about why they are trying to secretly defy the will of the public and disrespecting their Election 2006 campaign in the same way they always do: Like wailing infants. Last week, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) took to PBS to lace into critics of the secret trade deal he negotiated, saying he should have "ignored" his own Democratic colleagues raising questions because they are "wasting my time."
On the war, same thing. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), for instance, today criticized Moveon.org in Roll Call newspaper for asking Democrats to vote down the blank check proposal, saying "I would urge MoveOn and others to recognize that the person who is extending this war is George Bush." This is the same Artur Davis who whined to reporters that it was "unfortunate" he was exposed for taking thousands of dollars of credit card industry cash in exchange for his support for the credit card-industry written Bankruptcy Bill in 2005.
But, then, Davis is trying to pull the same kind of rhetorical trick that so many other Democrats pull: Attempting to make us believe they are merely innocent bystanders, and that there isn't that document known as the "Constitution" that gives Congress the power of the purse over George Bush. We're all just supposed to be totally psyched that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) says she is unhappy that this is all happening, even though Pelosi is simultaneously using her power to schedule this vote, and set it up in a way so as to hide it from the public. She would have us believe that September will be "really the moment of truth for this war," as Congressional Quarterly quotes her saying - as if it's no big deal that more troops will die because she and her colleagues are willing to drag their feet from the comfortable guarded confines of the U.S. Capitol. We're all just supposed to wildly applaud when Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) goes on national television to say that the bill they are pushing is "the beginning of the end of the president's policy in Iraq" - we're not supposed to know that he and his colleagues stripped out the timelines for withdrawal and even stripped out waivable troop readiness standards.
The good news is that the public is getting smart, and the traditional media's monopoly on news - which often means we don't actually get the real news - is ending. Today, it is more difficult than ever for politicians to go the Dick Cheney Energy Task Force route by trying to hide their shenanigans from public view. Democratic leaders, try as they might to negotiate secret NAFTA-style trade deals and use parliamentary pirouettes to hide votes on the Iraq War, aren't fooling anyone. And come 2008, they will be held to account.
I'll do an update on the Iraq vote over at Working Assets later today when/if it happens. If you are watching C-SPAN, make sure to carefully watch the vote on the rule. All the Republicans will likely vote no - they want an open debate because they somehow think reiterating to America their steadfast support for the Iraq War is good politics. You are going to see a lot of Democrats stand up and berate the war, and say they really are voting against funding the war because they are voting against the predetermined Republican amendment. Yet, most of these Democrats will likely vote for the rule, which is the real vote for war. Democrats voting yes on the rule are the ones who are casting their vote to give President Bush a blank check.
Remember, all we need is 20 Democrats to vote no on the rule to send the bill down and start over. If that doesn't happen, then the question becomes which U.S. Senator is going to answer the "where's the beef?" question by putting their antiwar rhetoric into action by pulling an old-school, read-the-phonebook filibuster? Sens. Chris Dodd, John Kerry, Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold seem to be girding for a big fight, while the Associated Press reports both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama "declined" to take a position. Will we see a real filibuster, or will we see capitulation in the upper chamber? Stay tuned.
UPDATE [1:27PM MST]: House Democrats passed the key rule vote - the most important vote, because it deliberately sets the stage to give president Bush a blank check for the Iraq War. The Roll Call vote can be found here. Those Democrats with the courage to vote no were: Waters Harman, Clay, Moore (WI),McNerney, Kucinich and Stark. Democrats not voting were Cardoza, DeGette, Engel, Gutierrez, Jones (OH), Lewis (GA), Oberstar and Shea-Porter. In other news, Sens. Kerry and Leahy are the latest Senate Democrats to issue statements saying they will vote against the blank check in the Senate, but to date not a single senator has indicated they will filibuster. This all happened just as the New York Times put a story on its website announcing that "Americans now view the war in Iraq more negatively than at any time since the war began, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll." The same poll shows that 82% of Americans want Congress to either attach binding conditions on Iraq War funding, or cut off all funds for the war immediately.