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2007-03-22

Funding War? A Democratic Debate Between Rep Lynn Woolsey and Robert Borosage

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The House is set to vote today on a controversial bill that sets a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. The Democratic measure would give President Bush nearly $100 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We host a debate with Rep. Lynn Woolsey, co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus in the House and Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future. [includes rush transcript]

The House is set to vote today on a war-funding bill that sets a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. The Democratic measure would give President Bush nearly $100 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also establishes tough new readiness standards for deploying combat forces and sets a September 2008 deadline to bring the troops home.

House Democratic leaders have made passage of the bill a top priority and have been pressuring lawmakers to approve the measure. The House Leadership has also gained the support of the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org which endorsed the bill. But it’s unclear whether Democrats have the required 218 votes needed to pass in part because of opposition led by the leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus. They say the bill doesn’t go far enough and have proposed an amendment that would bring the troops home by the end of this year.

For a debate on the issue we are joined by two guests:

  • Rep. Lynn Woolsey, Democratic Congresswoman from California. She is the co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus in the House.
  • Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The House is set to vote today on a war funding bill that sets a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. The Democratic measure would give President Bush nearly $100 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also establishes tough new readiness standards for deploying combat forces and sets a September 2008 deadline to bring the troops home. House Democratic leaders have made passage of the bill a top priority and have been pressuring lawmakers to approve the measure. The House leadership has also gained the support of the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org, which endorsed the bill.

But it’s unclear whether Democrats have the required 218 votes needed to pass, in part because of opposition led by leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus. They say the bill doesn’t go far enough and have proposed an amendment that would bring the troops home by the end of this year.

AMY GOODMAN: For a debate on the issue, we’re joined by two guests. Lynn Woolsey is a Democratic Congress member from California. She is the co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus. We’re also joined by Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. They both join us from Capitol Hill. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Congressmember Lynn Woolsey, why don’t you lay out your position?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, of course, we want a date certain, and we want our troops home from Iraq. And that is my position. My position is that on November the 11th, the Democrats were voted into office as the majority to do bold actions to bring our troops home. And I just don’t believe that this supplemental does enough. It is $100 billion more to pay for the President’s surge for his escalation of this war. There are virtually no enforcement measures in this legislation that will make the President do anything that we’re telling him to do. Of course, we want our troops trained, ready and rested, but guess what, he gets to waive all of that. And in each one of the benchmarks, needs to have — if the benchmarks had good solid enforcement, I’d be more than glad to bring — I would hope we’d bring the troops home date in sooner, but I’d go all the way to August if I thought what we were doing had enforcement. What I would rather we do is spend this money to keep our troops safe, escalate our training of the Iraqi security, and then bring our troops home so they can be home by Christmas with their families.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Robert Borosage, clearly there are differences among the Democrats and even among the leadership in the party. There’s questions as to whether the number of votes will be there. What’s your perspective on this bill?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, it’s very hard to get the majority. You’ve got — you know, the question here is not about policy. I totally agree with Congresswoman Woolsey’s position on the war. The question is about, can you create a symbolic vote — because the President has vowed to veto it if it passes — a symbolic vote that unites the opponents of the war and shows that there’s a majority in the Congress now united about a date certain to get the troops out and about measures, in terms of readiness and equipment, etc., that the President has to meet to put the troops in or to escalate. I think that’s a very symbolic vote, and it’s an amazing amount of leadership that Pelosi and Jack Murtha have done, because when this congress convened, I can assure you that majority wasn’t there.

And so, if we can get that vote, I think that isolates the opponents, it allows us to really target on those opponents. The President has vowed he will veto the bill if it survives the Senate. And we’ll come back, and this is going to be a series of votes as we try to put boundaries around and rein in a rogue president who is intent on escalating a war that the country wants us out of. So this is a beginning of a process. I think it’s a moment where uniting the opponents of the war and putting real pressure on those who are proponents, who are for the war, this vote will do that. I think it’s a very valuable thing to pass.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lynn Woolsey, your response?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, actually, giving that president over $100 billion more for this war does not rein him in at all. He has enough money to do what he needs to do in the short term. We should not give him more. The only power we have around here is the power of the purse, and we are the majority, and that is what the public said on November 7. Democrats — I mean, Democrats got elected in Republican districts, because the Democratic opponents stood up and said, "I am against this war. I want to bring our troops home. And I want to bring them home now." They didn’t say, "Oh, I want to give the President another $100 billion, and then we’ll start reining him in." Uh-uh. It’s too late. The guy has shown us he will not do anything that we ask him to do.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to get Bob Borosage’s response, but first we have to break. We’re talking to Congressmember Lynn Woolsey, Democratic Congress member from California, as well as Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. And as we go to break, if you want to join in the discussion by email, if you’ve got a question or a comment, you can email us at mail(at)democracynow.org. That’s mail(at)democracynow.org. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the debate within the Democratic Party, whether to allocate more money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And you can email us at mail(at)democracynow.org. Our guests are Democratic Congressmember Lynn Woolsey of California, co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, and Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. Bob Borosage, if you can just pick up where Lynn Woolsey left off.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, I’m with Lynn on policy. And, as you know, Lynn and I, Congresswoman Woolsey and I work closely together on a whole range of issues, so this is a fight within the family, if you will. And it’s a question about tactics. It’s not a question about who opposes the war. We both oppose the war, and both of us want the troops out as quickly as possible. The problem is not the Democratic Party, in some sense. The problem is, you’ve got a president who’s intent on escalating the war, you’ve got a unified Republican caucus that is prepared at this point almost entirely to support him, and you’ve got some slagger Democrats who are very worried about opposing a president. The result is there is not a majority to end funding of the war, and a vote to end funding of the war will simply lose.

So the question is, what Pelosi and Murtha have done — I think with extraordinary leadership — is they have gotten the conservative side of the Democratic Party to agree, on the whole, to a bill that sets up real standards about the troops and their equipment, etc., and a date certain, which is quite extraordinary, to end the war. So it unites the greatest number of opponents of the war, and it isolates the people who are supporting the war. It puts the target of outsiders, of the outside pressure, where it should be, on the people who are standing in the way of getting the troops home. So I think it’s a valuable vote.

Congresswoman Woolsey and other great friends of mine in the Congress are now — like John Lewis and Maxine Waters — are saying they’re going to vote against the resolution, because it doesn’t go far enough. I agree, it doesn’t go far enough. We’d want the troops home as quickly as we could, if we could get them there. The question is, is it a valuable symbolic vote? Because if it passes and we get the majority, the President will veto it, and then you will have in the public, very clearly, a statement that the majority in the Congress is against this president’s policy and has voted against it and is for bringing the troops home at a date certain, and the President is standing in the way of that, and his Republican allies and those conservatives in the Democratic Party that vote with him. I think that’s a very valuable line to draw.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Representative Woolsey, for a fight within the family, it’s getting to be a pretty strong fight, because obviously some of your colleagues are complaining about the pressure that they’re getting and also the offers that are being made to members of your caucus to vote for the bill. Could you talk about that?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, I certainly can. Those of us — myself, for example — I have spoken almost 200 times on the House floor for five minutes, every night I can, after we’re through with the business of the House, on what’s going on in Iraq and what we ought to be doing and how much our troops are suffering. Well, OK, so those like myself are the ones that are getting the pressure. Why isn’t the pressure being put on the members of Congress who aren’t against this war? Those are the ones that should be held — their feet should be held to the fire, not mine.

But I’ll tell you, if I don’t stand up for these troops, if I say that it’s symbolically OK to have a vote that lets the President have another $100 billion for this war, when this congress has not caught up with the public, with the people in the country who want this war over — they don’t want to wait two years, and they don’t want to wait until August and find out that the President is not going to do it anyway. So I just think those like myself are firm. We know why we’re firm: we want our troops home, we want this money spent on keeping them safe until we can bring them home, and we want them home as soon as possible. And we don’t even get to vote on that.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Borosage?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: A majority of the Congress will vote to give the President this money. So Congresswoman Woolsey and the people that MoveOn supports, etc., would vote against a bill that just gave him the money. What the Speaker has done, we have for the first time an antiwar speaker who is using the power of her office and her leadership to forge a majority that says, as a condition on the money you are going to get anyway, we’re going to force you to live with real benchmarks and protections of our troops and have a date certain in the bill. I think that’s a thing we want, the Speaker to use whatever power of her office to create a majority, and I think there ought to be a lot of pressure on the liberals that don’t want to vote for it, a lot of pressure on the conservatives that don’t want to vote for it —

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, first of all —

ROBERT BOROSAGE: — in order to create the majority to make that statement. Then, if you pass that, the President vows he’s going to veto it, but you then can identify in that vote who are the opponents of the war, and you have unified the opponents and you have isolated those people who are for the war. And I assure you that MoveOn and the outside groups and Congresswoman Woolsey and the Out of Iraq Caucus will put a lot of pressure on those people, and they should put a lot of pressure on them.

The alternative, which is simply to have a vote on an immediate amendment to get the troops out now, will get about seventy votes in the House, it will divide the people who oppose this war, and it will make an easy vote for those people who are supporting the war, by making them look stronger than they are. I think that doesn’t serve us well. I think we have got — this is a process where we have got to put before the American people the fact that a majority of the Congress is opposed to the course this president is following, and that’s what Speaker Pelosi is trying to do, and she’s, you know, I assume, selling barns and offering bridges and doing whatever she has to do to get that majority assembled.

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: I’ve never seen anybody work harder than she’s working, let me tell you that. I just feel bad that I disagree with what the end result — I think what the end result could be, compared to what the end result will be. This war is four years old. It’s not like it just started two weeks ago and we’re wondering who’s for it and who’s against it. It’s clear that the public is against this war. And we’re going to extend the war. And we are the majority. Therefore, what we do with the power of the purse is going to make the difference on whether or not we leave this country and bring our troops home out of that chaos that we put them in.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: But there is not a majority to end the funding, so we are not the majority in that regard. So the question is, what’s the majority we can assemble —

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, there might not be a majority, Bob —

ROBERT BOROSAGE: What’s the majority we can assemble that’s the toughest vote we can have? And I can tell you that Pelosi’s bill, which has the date certain in it, took a lot of arm-wrenching and kicking of people in the shins on the right side of the party, who don’t want anything to do with a date certain.

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: And that’s true, but also new members who ran on the very issue of, I am going to vote to bring our troops home, are not going to get that vote today. We should at least have that on the floor. That should be one of the amendments. But more important than — there will be no amendments. But more important than that amendment, there should be stronger enforcement in the bill, so that each step along the way, where we’re saying to the President, one, the troops have to be trained, rested and equipped — we shouldn’t be giving him waivers. He can waive those, and he will.

Then, when we say at each date certain that we want the benchmarks — we’re going to measure the benchmarks that the President has set and that the Iraqi government is supposed to have met, when they haven’t met those benchmarks, there is nothing in there that says, "And now, here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to sequester the money, we’re going to now put that money in place to bring our troops home, because obviously the Iraqi government isn’t living up to the benchmarks." And then, when we get to the end of August 2008 and the war is still going on, we’re going to say to the President, "Alright, now you have to bring them home." The only way we can force him to do that in this bill is to sue him.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Representative Woolsey, when you say that there will be no amendments, given the heated nature of this debate, wouldn’t it be more advisable to at least, for those of you who are in opposition to certain aspects of it, to at least allow amendments on the floor and have debate on them?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, I believe so. I believe this is a democracy and it’s still America, and that’s why we supposedly have all of our troops in harm’s way, that we should have amendments. And, actually, I disagree with Bob. I think if our amendment, the Barbara Lee amendment, is made an order, which it wasn’t last night and it’s not going to, there’s a lot of people that would like to vote "Yes, what I really want is to bring the troops home, but, yes, I will vote with the supplemental, but I want my constituents to know that I really want to bring them home sooner than that."

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, there’s a lot of congressmen that would like to straddle it and confuse their constituents completely. But on the amendment question, the problem with the amendments is if you allow the amendment of the liberals, the Barbara Lee amendment, to bring the troops home, you know, this year, then the right side of the party will demand an amendment for the supplemental without any date whatsoever. And the Barbara Lee amendment will get about seventy votes, and the unified Republican caucus and the right side of the Democratic Party will have a majority or very close to a majority to pass the supplemental without any date in it at all.

That’s why what Pelosi and Murtha have tried to do is create this position, where instead of showing the strength of the President’s support in the Congress, we are showing the strength of the opposition to the President in the Congress with a resolution that includes benchmarks, includes criteria about the leadership — about the military, and includes a date certain to get the troops out. It is a resolution that’s so strong the President says he’ll veto it, even though it’s a supplemental appropriation on the money he supposedly needs for the troops. So that is a debate that it is worth having a majority of around — pass it and force the President to veto it. I think this is —- I mean, the question is, as a matter of political tactics, does this help the American people understand where the problem is? In the White House and in a unified Republican caucus -—

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: They know where the problem is, is in the White House.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Or do we show with a different vote that there’s a majority in the Congress that just are going to go along with Congress —

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Woolsey, I want to end with a different question.

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: I have to say something about — I have to say something about this if we have an amendment, they have to have an amendment. For six years we’ve been in the minority. We have had vote after vote after vote, where there were no Democratic amendments. We do not have to give them an amendment because we have one.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Woolsey, I want to end with a question from Graham and Barbara that was just sent into mail(at)democracynow.org. They said there’s a movement in the towns in Vermont and other states to bring the issue of impeachment to town meetings, and towns are passing resolutions calling for impeachment. The movement is growing. The list of malfeasance by the administration is astounding. When will the more progressive members of Congress do their constitutional duty and call for the impeachment of this administration? We’re going to end with that, Congressmember Woolsey.

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, the answer to that: if we dive into impeachment right now, it will suck all the oxygen out of the Capitol and out of our offices and out of our hearing rooms. We’re having hearings. We’re having oversight. Let’s let that go forward, and then we’ll see where that leads us.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. We want to thank you both for joining us from the Capitol. Congressmember Lynn Woolsey, Democratic Congress member from California, co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus in the House; and Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, I want to thank you for being with us. And, again, if you would like to comment on this debate, you can email us at mail(at)democracynow.org.

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