By Garett Reppenhagen, Michael T. McPhearson and Kevin Martin
t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributors
Monday 23 April 2007
President Bush is playing a game of political chicken with Democratic Congressional leaders over nearly $100 billion to fund his war policies in a supplemental appropriations bill. The president threatens to veto the bill after a House-Senate conference committee reconciles the differences in their separate bills, passes the reconciled version in both Houses and then sends it to the White House. Bush predictably opposes any and all challenges by Congress to his warmaking authority, and the conference report will likely retain some mix of benchmarks, timelines for partial troop withdrawal in 2008 and other conditions from the House and Senate versions of the supplemental.
The administration’s main tactic is to berate congressional leaders for “holding up funding for the troops.” Bush had originally said money for the troops in Iraq would run out by April 15, which was obviously just the latest bit of disinformation emanating from the White House. The Congressional Research Service says there is $52 billion in previously approved war funding in the pipeline for the military to spend, which could last at least through the end of May.
Democrats (and the few Republicans who support their position) should hold firm after a Bush veto, and indeed use it as an opportunity to end the war and bring our troops home now, not in 2008. They should not bother attempting to override Bush’s veto (which requires a 2/3 majority in both Houses and has next to no chance of occurring), nor should they come back with a weaker bill – it is already too weak and full of loopholes that could leave tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq indefinitely – nor a bill for short-term funding of the war.
Instead, Democrats should inform the president he will get no more money for his quagmire in Iraq, and that the $52 billion already approved will be used to fund the following:
- Immediate, safe and orderly withdrawal of all US troops, contractors and military bases from Iraq.
- A UN or regional peacekeeping force as part of peace plan for Iraq, if the people of Iraq desire it.
- A down payment on the huge debt we owe to the people of Iraq in the form of reparations and reconstruction aid, to be carried out by Iraqis and Iraqi companies, not American or foreign firms.
- Improved veterans’ benefits to take better care of our troops once they get home.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s April 11 announcement that the military will extend troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan from a year to fifteen months is only the most recent manifestation of the failure of Bush’s war policies.
Troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan have many needs not being sufficiently addressed by the current administration that claims so often and so loudly to be “supporting the troops.” These include increased funding for health care and better access to providers (currently there are 600 patients to one doctor in the Veterans Administration system), more mental health services (only about half the VA hospitals have such programs), and a huge increase in substance abuse programs (less than half of VA health facilities treat substance abuse).
Veterans need more accessible housing programs. Homeless veterans often rely on nonprofit organizations to develop programs using grant money. This is a disgrace. The government should provide the bulk of services with augmentation from nonprofits seeking to help veterans.
Employment assistance and veteran job fairs are seriously needed, as unemployment for veterans is three times the national average. A more comprehensive college GI Bill should be implemented, and Veterans Administration loans for houses should also be adapted for small business loans. This list is by no means comprehensive, and the commitment to supporting our returning veterans needs to be long-term.
The cost of this new direction in US policy would very likely exceed $52 billion; if Congress needs to appropriate more money to accomplish these aims, it should do so rapidly.
Skeptics will doubtless say this is unrealistic, that the Democrats do not have the votes to end the war and bring the troops home now, let alone fund peacekeeping, reparations and reconstruction for the Iraqi people, and to do right by our homecoming troops. However, the Democratic leaders have not tried to make a case for such a dramatic change in policy. We submit that if they laid out such a comprehensive plan, it would have massive support from the American and Iraqi people.
And the alternative – giving Bush nearly $100 billion to continue his disastrous policies in Iraq, with another $140 billion requested for the fiscal year that begins October 1, crossing our fingers and somehow hoping it will make things better in Iraq – is that more realistic?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and company need to fulfill the mandate for peace delivered by the voters last November. It is good to see some Democrats are finally beginning to stand up to Bush’s cynical, pernicious use of the “support the troops” mantra as a human shield for his miserably failed policies.
There is only one real way to support the troops, and that is to bring them home to the warm embrace of their families as soon as possible.
Garett Reppenhagen is chairman of the board of directors of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Michael T. McPhearson is executive director of Veterans For Peace. Kevin Martin is executive director of Peace Action. Websites: www.ivaw.org, www.veteransforpeace.org, www.peace-action.org.