Political War Games

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Wall Street Journal
May 16, 2008
Pg. 12

Congress's approval rating is at record lows, but who cares? The Democrats who run the joint have made a calculation that voters will blame everything they loathe about Washington on the Republican President. Which is precisely the kind of political immunity that lets Democrats think they can get away with the tax, spend and evade spectacle of this week's war-funding bill.
Really, this one is a classic. President Bush requested some $178 billion to fund the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until summer of 2009 – long enough to give the next President breathing room. Democrats know they can't get away with not funding the troops, but to make the vote go down better with their antiwar left they larded it up with war conditions and domestic spending.
Then yesterday they pulled the stunt of approving the domestic spending but voting down the war money, on a 149-141 vote. Most Republicans withheld their votes to protest the way the bill was handled; it was written out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, bypassing Republicans on the Appropriations Committee.
Before the vote, Ms. Pelosi declared that "The legislation provides for a new direction in Iraq that will end this sad chapter in America's history and bring home our brave men and women in uniform" – thus appeasing her antiwar wing. But after the vote, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer quickly said he expects the Senate to restore the war funds.
Yesterday's House votes were even divided into three tranches – war funding, domestic funding and policy provisions. This let Democrats vote against war funding while knowing Republicans will ensure the money will still get to the troops.
On spending, Democrats added $15.6 billion for 13 more weeks of unemployment benefits, though the jobless rate is still only 5%. They also added $120 million as a downpayment on a new GI Bill for veterans, which would create a permanent benefit that would be around long after the Iraq war is over. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it would cost $51.8 billion over 10 years – a vast new entitlement.
What Speaker Pelosi didn't expect was that all of this spending would cause a mutiny in her own caucus. She had to postpone a vote last week after a revolt by "Blue Dog" Democrats who promised to oppose a bill that piled domestic projects on war spending. Their complaint is that the extras violate "paygo," the 2006 Democratic campaign promise to pay for new initiatives dollar-for-dollar with new taxes or budget cuts. Never mind that paygo has been a farce from the get-go, tossed aside when convenient this year and last.
So what to do? These are House Democrats, so the grand Blue Dog-liberal "compromise" was . . . raise taxes. Democrats have now added a 0.5% income tax surcharge on incomes over $500,000 for individuals, $1 million for couples. "They're not going to miss it," Arkansas Democrat Mike Ross told AP, in a sign of his respect for hard-earned private income.
The surcharge won't vanish if the war does. And it would hit millions of small subchapter S businesses that pay individual income rates – and which hire the very people that Democrats claim need more jobless benefits because the economy is so terrible. Democrats know Mr. Bush will veto this tax hike. But they are trying to sell voters on the illusion that Democrats can deliver vast new benefits – and the only folks who'll have to pay for them are those who won't "miss it."
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned earlier this month that if the emergency funds aren't approved by Memorial Day, the Pentagon would have to put military salaries on hold by June 15. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has tried to skewer John McCain for his opposition to the expanded GI Bill. We'd like to hear how Mr. Obama's support for the troops includes leaving military families at risk of a delayed paycheck while their parents and spouses fight overseas.
Taking the opportunity to pander to the antiwar left while stopping short of actually cutting off funds for the war is a cynical maneuver even by Beltway standards. If Democrats lack the courage of their antiwar convictions, their responsibility is to give the troops the funds they need without using them for political games.