Friday, January 12, 2007

OR Dems Line Up To Oppose--Halt?--Escalation

The people doing the real work for our Members of Congress often don't know what to make of Carla and me. One senior staffer called us "very scary people," and was smiling but not joking. Are we friendly? Are we out for whatever increases traffic? Can we be trusted? It's surely been very difficult for Congresspeople and their staffs to judge how to deal with the growing phenomenon of bloggers, who do all kinds of things that make people with political careers nervous. So when we talk to the chiefs of staff and communications directors and legislative aides, we're already spoken to trepidatiously. Add to that the natural disadvantage coming from having a few hundred readers a day instead of a few hundred thousand, and you see what a careful dance it is to play cub reporter and try to get official positions and statements from federal representatives.

That said, I think some of them secretly like it for all the pitfalls, because the better-informed bloggers can be conversant with staffers on political issues--and the common thread through both groups is that they're a little wonky/nutty for politics to begin with. Real journalists--the kind who get paid--tend to focus more on getting the story done to please their hardass boss than the issues, I imagine, so our passion and willingness to talk about head counts and amendments and bizarre parliamentary procedure might be appealing.

Nonetheless, we've been pretty lucky to gain their ear and get return phone calls from them, because it means we can do the work that ideally the traditional media should be doing--in this case polling the delegation on the major issue of the day: shall the US escalate the Iraq War, and if not how not? How to stop the escalators and get off this crazy war, so to speak?

Ironically--considering that he probably best represents the political bent of Loaded Orygun--I have not ever met or spoken with Earl Blumenauer's policy staff or spokespeople But that's OK, because Earl has been pretty outspoken on escalation, including these remarks before Bush's speech:
On the eve of the president's address, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, used remarks on the House floor to suggest that the 2002 authorizing resolution on Iraq approved overwhelmingly by Congress now lacks validity, saying Democrats should take advantage of that. "Knowing what we know now, the authorization of force bears little relation to reality. Instead, the [congressional] committees of jurisdiction should use their upcoming hearings to craft new legislation that will mean a withdrawal of our troops, as well as guide our continued involvement in Iraq until that withdrawal is complete," he said.

Blumenauer plans to introduce a separate measure to help Congress use its powers, including its budgetary authority, more effectively while helping to chart a way forward in Iraq.
That snippet sets the basic questions for our inquiry:
  • Does the Member oppose the President's proposed escalation, and would they vote on a non-binding resolution to that effect?
  • Does the Member believe Congress has the ability to control a war effort by using the power of the budget to restrict expansion, and would he/she use that power if new costs for the escalation could be isolated?
  • Would the Member support a law requiring a new authorization agreement (AUMF) before escalation?
Nearly as up front as Bluemenauer, and certainly creatively so, has been David Wu. He's made his own firm statements, including this one at Blue Oregon--a first from him there that I know of:
We are at a crucial turning point in Iraq and Afghanistan, and before the president decides to send more American troops in harm's way in Iraq, he needs to make his case to the American people, a case he has never convincingly made. No more lives lost for reasons and goals uncertain.

I hope President Bush heard the voice of the American people in November and listens to our professional military. I agree with our military leadership that it's time for Iraqis to fight for Iraqis, rather than to have Americans fight for Iraqis.

Seldom mentioned these days is our original mission in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden last hid and where his Taliban allies are staging a comeback. We still have opportunity for a complete success in Afghanistan, but unfortunately we do not have adequate resources there today. Redeploying from Iraq would allow us to bring most of our troops home and to have the resources to finish off the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Beyond the rhetoric, Wu has signed on as original cosponsor for the Nadler, Meehan and Kucinich* bills now pending in the House, all of which generally oppose the escalation plan in one form or another. As for funding, Wu's Communications Director Jillian Schoene had this to say:
As you know, and point out, Congress now can only control the purse strings so the real debate will come when the supplemental is released. Congressman Wu definitely will consider opposing funding for any troop increases, but as you also point out, we don't know what the supplemental will look like. We expect that vote will occur end of March or April.
Darlene Hooley has actually been fairly quiet on the issue, at least in comparison to her Oregon colleagues. Not even Randy at Ridenbaugh Press was able to find much from her on the subject. I talked to Joan Davis, and she says the Congresswoman would sign a resolution in opposition. Joan wanted to confirm it concretely with her boss, but indicated Hooley believes at least on principle that it is Constitutionally OK to control the expansion of a conflict by yanking on the purse strings. As with the rest of the delegation, the actual process of separating "new" costs from "old" is one that makes the Congresswoman wary of speaking firmly on what she might do--as the dearth of meaningful quotes indicates, Hooley is not much of a front rail speaker on foreign policy issues. She'll be a loyal Democratic vote on nobinding bills, and if there appears to be a clean path to prevent funding in order to stop the escalation, you should see her join the more leftist members of the chamber in doing so.

Peter DeFazio has definitely been a standard bearer in that sense, as evidenced by these remarks:
As I said a year ago, instead of an open-ended commitment, we should announce a timeline for bringing our troops home over the next six to 12 months. The Bush administration has always set timelines for political developments in Iraq, arguing they were necessary to focus the energy of Iraq's leaders and to force compromises. We need to do the same on the military side.

Our troops have done all that has been asked of them in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is dead. His allies are on the run or in prison. The threat from WMDs in Iraq is non-existent. Arguably, the war that Congress authorized has been won. It is time to turn over control of the country to the Iraqis to build their own future, and bring our troops home.

With the abject failure of the administration to formulate a new policy in Iraq, the responsibility falls to Congress to stop its ill-conceived escalation of the war.
Like Wu, DeFazio is a cosponsor of the nonbinding opposition bills, and also will vote for the Kennedy-Markey bill that should include language on a call for reauthorization of force in Iraq, as well as potentially warning the administration off creating a conflict with Iran and Syria. Insofar as a rejected reauthorization would logically have to be accompanied by a block of funding, that puts DeFazio in the activist group.

I did contact Greg Walden's people, leaving Andrew Whelan a message. I've talked with him before, civilly. He's naturally not all that interested in getting back to me, so don't click refresh all day waiting to see his answer. I'll try his "cell number for people on deadline" today though.

On the Senate side, Ron Wyden's bonafides are well established, but as usual he's just a touch cagey on what he'll ultimately do. He doesn't hem and haw for show, waiting until opinion has coalesced like Smith does, but he isn't always ready to tip his hand so early. He's made statements saying it's time to bring our soldiers home, but has offered little to nothing on what he would do if the President went ahead and did it anyway, beyond a sense of the Senate resolution. I said to spokesperson Geoff Stuckart that I assumed Wyden was a yes on a nonbinding bill, so it wasn't worth discussing, and Stuckart did not contradict me. Beyond that, "he'll look carefully at all the proposals."

I don't mind if Wyden is playing good strategy with his information, but with the election just past he's become a senior, vocal member of the Democratic base in the Senate. If there is to be a change in the way the Congress checks the President's power, Ron Wyden will have to be one of the vanguard, and he should not shirk from that calling. He's popular enough with Oregonians--and far enough away from his next election--to have political capital to spend.Eventually his mettle will be tested, and we will be watching for his reaction.

We all know that no one has any fucking clue what Gordon Smith wants to do, including Gordon, and we've beaten that horse pretty regularly recently. But otherwise, you can see that Oregon's delegation is pretty firmly committed to opposing the escalation at least in words and principle, and there's a solid chance that all Democratic members will vote for both a non-binding resolution and the rejection or repeal of authorization for further funding of the war. If using the power of Congress to stop this twisted madman doesn't work, it won't be because of Oregon.

*The other two bills do not appear to be up at THOMAS yet; I'll try to fill them in later if I can.
--Meehan bill added 1/14; Nadler bill filed but not online.