By choosing to veto this bill the President refused the funds needed by our troops to execute a safe and orderly withdrawal from Iraq. The President is playing a political game of chicken with the lives of our troops. Is there a method behind this madness?
Follow along and we'll see what Bush is up to.
George W. Bush thinks he knows how this is going to turn out. He has a model in mind for this very kind of showdown where a President won and the Congress and particularly the Speaker of the House lost. But he is not reading these tea leaves correctly, because the stars are not aligned as they were in 1995 - 1996.
In 1995, a newly elected Republican majority in Congress, led by their brash new Speaker, Newt Gingrich, vowed to slow the growth of government spending and eventually get a balanced budget. The Democratic President, Bill Clinton's approval ratings were bouncing around in the 40% area. (I bet Bush wishes he would see those kind of numbers again.) Gingrich thought he saw his chance.
Gingrich and the President could not agree on a budget. Not only did Gingrich want to slow the growth of the Federal budget, he wanted to change spending priorities at the same time. Since they couldn't come to terms over a budget, they turned to the time honored tradition of passing a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running until something could be worked out. However, Gingrich was not content to pass a "clean" CR. That would be one that kept the government running in the same direction and at the same levels as the previous budget. Gingrich insisted that the CR contain the spending priorities he couldn't get the President to agree to in the regular budget bill.
Bill Clinton called his bluff and refused to sign the CR. He was holding out for a "clean" CR, one that would keep the government running as it had been. Gingrich believed that he had the upper hand and the people either wouldn't care if the government shut down, or would blame Bill Clinton. Well, people did care, and they blamed Newt Gingrich. In the end, Gingrich had to cave and passed the clean CR that Clinton wanted. Here's how one analysis puts it:
When push came to shove, Newt got shellacked by a better politician, Bill Clinton... The fatal mistake for Newt was when he bellied up to the bar and called Clinton's bluff on the budget deals which led to the closing down of the Federal Government. Newt underestimated the power of the press as well as the power of Bill Clinton to evoke sympathy.
This is the model George Bush has in mind when he thinks of his big showdown with Congress. But this situation is dramatically different. Bush's job approval rating is currently 32%. He hasn't seen a 40% approval in well over a year. 71% of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling the situation with Iraq. The same poll shows 64% of Americans believe that the United States should set a time line for withdrawal from Iraq in 2008. This is precisely what the Congress just did.
The Congress passed a bill to provide funds for a safe and orderly withdrawal from Iraq. An overwhelming majority of Americans support this move, disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq and disapprove generally of Bush's job performance as President. How does he think this is going to come out in his favor?
George Bush has refused the money to bring our troops home safely from Iraq. He has refused to listen to the will of the American people and their duly elected representatives in the Congress. And he is now playing politics with the lives of our troops.
We should refuse to let him get away with it.