Anti-War Dems Near Defeat on Spending Bill
By: Josephine Hearn
March 21, 2007 08:13 AM EST
The most outspoken critics of the $124 billion wartime spending bill in the House are facing withering support in their fight to defeat it.
California Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey said that many of their liberal colleagues were caving under pressure from Democratic leaders who, according to at least one congressman, have threatened to block requests for new funds for his district.
They also cited MoveOn.org's endorsement of the measure Monday as a blow to their efforts.
"This is the process: people who feel strongly about this issue hold out as long as they can," said Waters. "A lot of pressure comes to bear and they can't hold up under the pressure."
The $124 billion emergency spending bill, backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), includes not only more funds this year for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but also new military readiness standards, benchmarks for the Iraqi government and an Aug. 31, 2008 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
A floor vote is planned for Thursday.
Democratic leaders have also added billions in funds not related to wartime spending in a bid for more support.
That additional money was attractive for at least one lawmaker, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), an Out of Iraq Caucus member. His spokeswoman, Danielle Langone, cited $400 million for a one-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
"That's pretty vital for our district, so we'll be voting for the bill," Langone said.
Waters said that she and other opponents of the spending measure had entered the weekend with 20 to 25 members on their side but that they had suffered "a lot of damage" as Democratic leaders aggressively urged members to support the bill.
Vowing to step up her efforts to hold the opposition, Waters said it was clear that Democratic leaders were mounting an all-out whip effort beyond the earlier informal surveying by Democratic Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).
"This is a vote of conscience," Waters said. "Jim Clyburn said he was doing an assessment, so that's what I was doing. Now that he's whipping, I'm going to start whipping."
Clyburn disputed her assertion. "That's not what she told me," he said. "I beg to differ that there's anybody whipping against this bill."
One congressman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution from leaders, bristled at how aggressively he was being pressured to vote for the bill, singling out Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) as especially forceful.
"I really resent this," the lawmaker said. "Rahm Emanuel told us a vote against this bill is a vote to give the Republicans victory."
The congressman also noted that Democratic leaders had "made clear" to him that they might yank funding requests he had made for projects in his district if he did not support the measure.
Democratic whips, all deputies of Clyburn, approached members on the House floor Monday night.
A jovial Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger went up to fellow Maryland Rep. Albert Wynn as he sat off the floor with a reporter and told Wynn that a vote against the bill was a vote for Republican victory. He waved a copy of the MoveOn.org press release backing the measure.
"Have you seen this?" Ruppersberger asked.
"Yeah, who did that?" replied Wynn, a member of the Out of Iraq Caucus.
"Some people we asked to put out a press release to get you to vote for the bill," Ruppersberger joked. He razzed the noncommittal Wynn a few moments longer, pretending to twist his arm, then headed off to reprise the routine with another Out of Iraq Caucus member, Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.
Other undecided Democrats were also feeling the heat. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.) said she had been approached several times and was "still very undecided."
"This will establish to a large degree who I am. ... I'm really trying to make sure I have an understanding of the supplemental in practicality and balancing that with my own concerns about the war and my constituents who are very opposed to the war," Clarke said. "The sentiment I'm getting from my constituents is that I'm beyond benchmarks now. …The administration has proven to be untrustworthy."
Some anti-war activists assailed MoveOn.org's approach to the Iraq bill, alleging that the organization had used a skewed poll to conclude that 85 percent of its members backed the measure.
"MoveOn put out a dishonest poll that did not offer its members a real choice to end the war, and now the peace movement is lobbying activists to reform MoveOn or drop off its list," David Swanson, a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, said in an e-mail to The Politico. "I unsubscribed from MoveOn this morning."
In the poll, MoveOn.org gave its members a choice of supporting, opposing or being "not sure" of the plan proposed by the Democratic leadership, according to an e-mail sent to members Sunday by MoveOn.org official Eli Pariser.
It did not mention a more aggressive withdrawal proposal backed by Woolsey, Waters and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
Pariser said MoveOn.org had held out as long as possible before backing the leadership proposal.
"We were basically declining to take a position as long as we could to strengthen the hand of the progressives. We did the poll at the last time we felt we could have an impact on the final vote."
He said he would support the progressive proposal if it came to a vote. "We'll encourage people to vote for that and for the supplemental," he said. "We are trying to end the war. That's the mandate."
Democratic leaders are pressing hard on the bill even though some members of their whip operation are themselves opposed. Waters, one of nine chief deputy whips, has said she will not whip for a bill she staunchly opposes.
But other members have been more willing to help. Rep. Diane E. Watson (D-Calif.), who remains "solidly" opposed to the bill, was still serving as a regional whip.
"I told Jim Clyburn I'm a team player. I'm a whip. I'll do the whipping," Watson said. But, she added, "My whipping is just a survey. … If I believed in what I was whipping on, I'd do more."
See also: Iraq Bill Hard Count is 204.
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