Tuesday, September 18, 2007

To Fund or Not to Fund

Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) is about as close as you can get to a careful, middle-of-the-road, centrist lawmaker -- he's not a liberal antiwar firebrand, by any means. That's why his newfound openness to cutting funding for the war in Iraq could be pivotal. Before now, Salazar has consistently opposed any efforts to cut the war's funding. Like most other Democrats, he seemed to accept the Republican framing of the war funding issue -- that any vote against funding for the war was a vote against the troops themselves. This sentiment was perhaps best expressed by Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) when Congress voted to continue funding the war in Iraq earlier this year:
"As long as we have troops on the front lines, it is our shared responsibility to give them the equipment and protection they need."

But the fact that a moderate senator like Salazar is even considering cutting funding for the war could signal that Democrats may attempt to reframe the issue, something they haven't typically been very good at. If that's the case, then they may want to follow Salazar's lead and portray their stance as pro-military. As the Senator said to me earlier today, he only came to his position on funding after visiting Iraq. There he says actual soldiers in the field recommended that he consider cutting funding as a way of ending the war. He said their position was clear: "They want to come home."

But like any politician, Salazar has left himself ample room to change his position when it comes time to actually vote. He says he still wants to find some sort of bipartisan consensus on ending the war. Only if that fails, he told me, would he then consider other options, such as cutting funding:
"It’s trying to find a new way forward, and it may be that what we fund are the limited missions. But the concept is still very much under discussion."

As Democrats realized when dealing with the Iraq supplemental funding bill, it requires 60 votes in the Senate to pass almost any bill related to Iraq -- and 67 to overturn a presidential veto. But to end the war, Democrats don't actually need to pass anything. Rather, they simply need 41 senators to publicly commit to not vote for any funding bill that doesn't contain a firm timeline for withdrawal. That would force President Bush to accept a withdrawal or face the prospect of having no money with which to continue the war -- either way, Democrats succeed in ending the current mission in Iraq. While we're not a that point yet, the openness of those like Senator Salazar to cutting funding may be a sign that more and more moderate lawmakers may be willing to take more radical steps to end the war.

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