NDN Blog

Rep. Harman Holds Bush Administration Accountable

Rep. Harman is leading the effort to hole the Bush Administration accountable for Iraq and make funding for our involvment in Iraq more transparent.  Read her op-ed from today's San Francisco Chronicle in its entirety here:

Stop Conducting the War Off the Books

- Jane Harman
Friday, January 12, 2007

As new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, there will be no more "blank checks" for the war in Iraq. Congress will hold President Bush accountable for the way he has fought this war, for what he plans to do next and for how he plans to pay for it.

Bush has funded the war in Iraq and the broader "war on terror" almost entirely through "emergency supplemental" appropriations bills -- in other words, off the books. Ninety-three percent of the approximately $507 billion appropriated for the war in Iraq has come through such bills, and the president is reportedly set to ask for another $100 billion in "emergency" funds in February to cover costs.

By designating budget requests as "emergencies," the president and the former Republican-led Congresses placed them on a legislative fast-track. Congress had little opportunity to ask tough questions about how these funds were being spent, and little opportunity to strip out offending items -- including a litany of earmarks and other domestic spending that had nothing to do with the war.

Calling these funding requests "emergencies" also automatically exempts them from spending caps. The president can thus claim that more than $500 billion in recent spending is not part of the deficit. Nonsense.

By doing so, the true costs of the war are not understood in relation to the other programs that are shortchanged to pay for it -- including providing veteran's benefits to the 22,714 American servicemen and women wounded in the war, funding the chronically underfunded No Child Left Behind education law, paying for affordable housing for Hurricane Katrina victims and investing in clean energy.

Last year's budget resolution, which this Congress has adopted, defines "emergency" as addressing a situation that is "sudden," "urgent," "unforeseen" and "temporary." After almost four years, the war in Iraq cannot reasonably be called "sudden." The Pentagon is capable of "foreseeing" the costs of the war with a reasonable degree of accuracy. And it stretches credulity to call either the war in Iraq or the "war on terror" "temporary." (I will grant the situation is, without question, "urgent").

There is ample precedent for considering the costs of war through the regular appropriations process. President Lyndon B. Johnson sought emergency supplemental funding for the first two years of the Vietnam War, but the war was almost entirely funded through the regular appropriations process in subsequent years. Similarly, most of the cost of the first year of the Korean war was paid for through supplementals, but the following two years were almost entirely paid for through the normal process. The war in Iraq should be no different.

No one in Congress wants to deprive our brave military men and women of the protective gear or equipment they need, or to fail to fund their safe exit from Iraq. That is why the 2007 supplemental appropriation is likely to pass -- and finding spending to cut in the 2007 budget to offset theses costs will be hopeless. But the marker can be set down for future funding. No more "emergency" supplementals, Mr. President.

Future funding for the war in Iraq must be on-budget, so Congress and the public can see the trade-offs and finally have a chance to "share" what is sacrificed.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice, is in her seventh term in Congress and served for the past four years as the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

 

One Step Closer to Our Goal: Minimum Wage Hike Passes the House

NDN is a national leader in the effort to raise the minimum wage, and improve the standard of living for millions of working Americans.  Our Spanish language media campaign to build support in the Hispanic community was a major factor in passing state ballot initiatives in Arizona and Colorado, and in keeping the pressure on Congress.  And the outcome was bipartisan support in the House for this important measure:

The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved the first increase in the federal minimum wage in nearly a decade, boosting the wages of the lowest-paid American workers from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years.

The 315 to 116 vote could begin the process of ending Congress's longest stretch without a minimum-wage increase since the mandatory minimum was created in 1938. In the past decade, inflation has depleted the value of the minimum wage to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

...Republicans who held in lock step during their 12 years as the majority party went over in droves to the Democratic side.

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'08 update

Senator Chris Dodd encourages us to participate in his conversation with the American people.

Senator Barack Obama had an op-ed in the Washington Post last week and the speculation on when he will announce his candidacy continues (article from NBC5 in Chicago, via RunObama).

Senator Hillary Clinton is off to Iraq this weekend.

Joe Biden delivered his opening statement at yesterday's hearing on Iraq. View the video here.

John Edwards asks us to tell Congress not to fund escalation. Over the weekend, Edwards is scheduled to be in New York for an address to the Riverside Church in Harlem. (Update: view the video of his address, "Silence is Betrayal," here)

Tom Vilsack weighs in on Iraq on his website and "used his annual Condition of the State speech delivered earlier in the day to urge the Iowa Legislature to approve a resolution opposing Bush's effort to expand the number of troops in Iraq." (From the Sioux City Journal)

Mitt Romney held the most intense call-a-thon I've ever heard of this past Monday. Press were allowed, velvet rope was employed, emphasizing the aesthetics of what Romney called the most "extraordinary advanced technology ever employed in a fundraising effort."

John McCain, who helped determined whether Florida or Ohio got the ball first in Monday's BCS championship game, now faces the reality of the John Edwards-coined "McCain Doctrine."

Rudy Giuliani, in addition to having a nice, sleek website, weighed in on the President's increase in troops.

Jim Gilmore, the former Governor of Virginia, filed papers to form his exploratory committee.

Senator Sam Brownback, who is currently traveling in Iraq, said that he opposes the surge of troops in Iraq.

Senator Chuck Hagel released a strong statement reacting to President Bush's plan for Iraq.

Mike Huckabee was on the Daily Show to promote his book this past Wednesday. On it, he takes a very interesting look at being "pro-life" and touches on one of the reasons why he thinks America is in trouble: a familiar concept he calls "horizontal politics."

Tommy Thompson is doing the most he can to show up in Iowa.

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

Gov. Richardson Brokers Cease Fire in Sudan

Building on his reputation as a statesman, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico just returned from a successful trip to Sudan where he negotiated a 60-day cease-fire between the Sudanese government and rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan. 

The New York Times has more:

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and leaders of several rebel factions in Darfur, the western Sudanese region, agreed Wednesday to a 60-day cease-fire in separate meetings with Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, according to a statement by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Bashir.

Mr. Richardson went to Sudan on behalf of the Save Darfur Coalition of groups trying to stem the violence in Darfur, to try to break the deadlock over who will police the region.

Hopefully, this cease-fire will be a first step towards ending the violence, massive population displacement and even genocide that has plauged Darfur.  At the very least, Gov. Richardson's actions show that there can be more to US foreign policy than military interventions. 

An extraordinary day in Washington

As a progressive, the last few months have been exhilirating.  Modern day conservatives had failed our nation, and were punished, deeply, at the polls.  New and fresh people came to Washington, with new ideas.  The mood here has been excited, optimistic.  The 100 hours plan started tackling long overdue problems, and has made great progress.  But it was yesterday, in the two major committee hearings on Iraq, that we see how different things are in Washington now.  Debate has come back to Congress, and Democrats increasingly look like the party of responsible government.

The tv talk shows, the news, no matter how you've checked in these last 24 hours have been bad for the White House, extraordinarily bad, bad in ways they have not experienced before.  It isn't just that at this point the President has lost credibility, and seems to have ignored the will of the American people.  It is that Members of Congress, led by the Democrats, are re-asserting their Constitutional role and questioning the Administratration in public, under-oath, something that hasn't been done since Bush took office.  I actually heard reporters talking about being in a Committee Room for a Congressional hearing.  Not sure I've heard that exact language in years. 

So the stories this am are about how the Administration was dismayed, shocked, taken aback by the way they were received on Capitol Hill.  What this means in English is they have never had Congress, a co-equal partner in the American government, and a body that can do a great deal to influence the national debate, do much more than repeat the Administration's talking points back to them.  The best example of this I found is a from a Times piece reporting on an exchange between Hagel and Rice that has not gotten as much attention as other moments in her testimony:

But it was left to Ms. Rice, an important fixture — and survivor — in an administration now in its seventh year, to defend against the tough condemnations in the Senate, where a vote on a resolution about the war could take place as early as next week.

Seated alone at a large table in front of the committee in a chilly Senate hearing room, where the front rows were filled with protesters, Ms. Rice appeared frustrated at times, as committee members variously interrupted her, challenged her or all but accused her of representing a dishonest administration.

Lawmakers argued with Ms. Rice over what to call the latest plan — she corrected critics who referred to it as an “escalation,” describing it as an “augmentation” — and over whether a civil war is underway.

When Ms. Rice asserted that insurgents, not warring Shiite and Sunni factions, were mainly responsible for American casualties, Mr. Hagel shot back, “Madame Secretary, your intelligence and mine is a lot different.”

He added, “To sit there and say that, Madame Secretary, that’s just not true.”

“Well, Senator, if you’ll — ,” Ms. Rice began.

“That is not true,” Mr. Hagel repeated.

“Senator, if you’ll allow me to finish,” Ms. Rice said, visibly exasperated, finally conceding that Iraqi attacks on other Iraqis are taking place in the form of death squads.

For years the Administration has lied to the American people with inpunity.  Yesterday the Secretary of State tried once again to lie, mislead, confuse - whatever the term - on a truly important matter and was called out on it in a big way by a leading Republican Senator.  Members of Congress of both parties will continue to re-assert their historic role, and take greater responsibility for governing.  This oversight, accountability, will no doubt begin to change the way the Administration operates.  And for that let us be thankful to the wisdom of the American people for bringing in a new team that wants to more than anything else restore the critical role of the Congress in our system of government.   

Let the hearings - by the way a great word in itself - continue!

The US raids an Iranian consulate

The Times got a reporter into Erbil today.  Read the piece.

New NPI Report on "Viral Video in Politics"

The New Politics Institute has launched a new series called "Re-imagining Video" that will explore the many ways the old world of traditional television is transfroming, particularly with the arrival of video online. This media transformation is going to have a profound impact on politics, which still depends heavily on 30-second TV ads.

The first installment in the series is called: "Viral Video in Politics: Creating Compelling Video that Moves." It was written by NPI's newest fellow, Julie Bergman Sender, a long-time Hollywood producer who has created some of the most memorable political viral video in the last couple years. She might be best known for creating the Will Ferrell impersonation of Bush on his ranch in the 2004 Presidential election cycle.

To give you a bit more of a sense of the new series, as well as Julie and her initial piece, I include the preface I wrote to the report:   

In the 1964 presidential election, an experimental one-minute television ad that only aired once changed politics forever.  That ad was “Daisy” and it featured  a little girl in a field plucking the petals off a daisy and counting, before her voice morphed into the voice of a man in a countdown that ended with the explosion of a nuclear bomb and the tagline: “Vote for President Johnson, the stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Call it “the mushroom cloud moment” for those with any foresight in politics. In its one airing “Daisy” showed the emotional power of television and how it could be effectively harnessed for politics. All politics adapted to the thirty-second television commercial, and television advertising defined how politics was played for the next forty years. 

In the recent 2006 midterm elections we had our own political “ah-ha” moment that came via the conduit of YouTube and other viral video outlets. Call it “the macaca moment.” It came in the form of a jittery digital video of Republican Senator George Allen on the campaign trail talking directly into a camera held by SR Sidarth, a young Indian-American campaign worker for Allen’s opponent. In this video Allen taunted Sidarth, welcoming him to the “real America,” and calling him “macaca,” an offensive term to many.

That one gaffe ricocheted around the internet, and was picked up in the mainstream media, tripping up Allen’s previously high-flying campaign, contributing to his eventual defeat. But more importantly, “the macaca moment” showed this nascent viral video medium’s game-changing impact. Emotionally powerful, visually complex video has finally arrived on the internet – and it’s moving fast. Those in politics will need to hustle to keep up with it.

This urgency is particularly important today, because the forty-year reign of broadcast and cable television thirty-second ads is coming to a close. Among other things, the spread of digital video recorders (DVRs) like TiVo allows an increasing chunk of Americans to skip ads altogether. By the 2008 election roughly one-third of all American households will have DVRs, and the percentage of likely voters with them will be even higher. 

Understanding video also requires understanding how people are accessing video. NPI Fellow Tim Chambers tells us that “by the 2008 election, more than 90 percent of the mobile phones used in the U.S. will be internet-enabled…by 2011, 24 million U.S. cellular subscribers and customers will be paying for some form of TV/video content and services on their mobile devices.” At that point mobile video services combined would have more than 3 million more users than the largest cable operator in the U.S. does today.

The New Politics Institute is committed to helping progressives understand this dramatic shift in the media landscape caused by, among other things, the emergence of viral video, and devise new political strategies that take advantage of it. This report is the first of a series of them in the coming year that will keep abreast of this rapidly changing space. We’re calling the series “Re-imagining Video.”

Our first guide to this new world of video on the internet is Julie Bergman Sender, a longtime Hollywood film producer and progressive activist, who is also NPI’s most recent new fellow. Julie has been innovating in the viral video space since the run-up to the 2004 election. She was one of the key creators behind actor Will Ferrell’s now famous 2004 viral video impersonation of George Bush. She was also the producer of one of the most effective viral videos of the 2006 election, with Hollywood female stars coyly talking about their first time – voting.

In this piece, Julie talks about her professional experiences in using the best practices of Hollywood and a focus on compelling narrative to create political video for viral distribution on the internet and beyond.  Her creative and practical insight should serve as a roadmap to all progressive groups and organizations as they begin to take advantage of this powerful new communications tool. 

The next few years will be much like the aftermath of that 1964 media bombshell. Let the new thinking begin.

Peter Leyden

Director of the New Politics Institute

Unsettling Times

Has the President started two secret wars against Syria and Iran?  That is the question foreign policy expert Steve Clemons is asking today.  The entire post is below:

Did the President Declare "Secret War" Against Syria and Iran?

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.

The bare outlines of that order may have appeared in President Bush's Address to the Nation last night outlining his new course on Iraq:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We're also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

Adding fuel to the speculation is that U.S. forces today raided an Iranian Consulate in Arbil, Iraq and detained five Iranian staff members. Given that Iran showed little deference to the political sanctity of the US Embassy in Tehran 29 years ago, it would be ironic for Iran to hyperventilate much about the raid.

But what is disconcerting is that some are speculating that Bush has decided to heat up military engagement with Iran and Syria -- taking possible action within their borders, not just within Iraq.

Some are suggesting that the Consulate raid may have been designed to try and prompt a military response from Iran -- to generate a casus belli for further American action.

If this is the case, the debate about adding four brigades to Iraq is pathetic. The situation will get even hotter than it now is, worsening the American position and exposing the fact that to fight Iran both within the borders of Iraq and into Iranian territory, there are not enough troops in the theatre.

Bush may really have pushed the escalation pedal more than any of us realize.

-- Steve Clemons

UPDATE: This exchange today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is full on non-denial denials and evasive answers to Biden's query about the President's ability to authorize military operations against forces within Iran and Syria:

SEN. BIDEN: Last night, the president said, and I quote, "Succeeding in Iraq requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges, and that begins with addressing Iran and Syria." He went on to say, "We will interrupt the flow of support for Iran and Syria, and we will seek out and destroy networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
Does that mean the president has plans to cross the Syrian and/or Iranian border to pursue those persons or individuals or governments providing that help?

SEC. RICE: Mr. Chairman, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was just asked this question, and I think he perhaps said it best. He talked about what we're really trying to do here which is to protect our forces and that we are doing that by seeking out these networks that we know are operating in Iraq. We are doing it through intelligence. We are then able, as we did on the 21st of December, to go after these groups where we find them. In that case, we then asked the Iraqi government to declare them persona non grata and expel them from the country because they were holding diplomatic passports.

But the -- what is really being contemplated here in terms of these networks is that we believe we can do what we need to do inside Iraq. Obviously, the president isn't going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq.

The broader point is that we do have and we have always had as a country very strong interests and allies in the Gulf Region, and we do need to work with our allies to make certain that they have the defense capacity that they need against growing Iranian military build-up, that they fell that we are going to be a presence in the Persian Gulf Region as we have been, and that we establish confidence with the states with which we have long alliances, that we will help defend their interests. And that's what the president had in mind.

SEN. BIDEN: Secretary Rice, do you believe the president has the constitutional authority to pursue across the border into Iraq (sic/Iran) or Syria, the networks in those countries?

SEC. RICE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I think I would not like to speculate on the president's constitutional authority or to try and say anything that certainly would abridge his constitutional authority, which is broad as commander in chief.

I do think that everyone will understand that -- the American people and I assume the Congress expect the president to do what is necessary to protect our forces.

SEN. BIDEN: Madame Secretary, I just want to make it clear, speaking for myself, that if the president concluded he had to invade Iran or Iraq in pursuit of these -- or Syria -- in pursuit of these networks, I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that. I just want to set that marker.

Worrisome.

-- Steve Clemons

The District a Leader in Women's Health

DC City Council Members Mary Cheh and David Catania have sponsored legislation that would require a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) to be included in the vaccination regimen of girls entering the sixth grade.  The FDA approved Merck’s Gardasil in July 2006 for marketing to girls between the ages of 9 and 26.  Gardasil has been proven 100% effective in preventing the strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer.  

The bill gives parents the right to decline vaccination, but not before they have been given the appropriate information in order to make an informed decision.  Cervical cancer kills more than quarter of a million women each year and most of the cases are caused by HPV.  To deny children this vaccination on the basis that it may cause promiscuity is not only irresponsible, but not an opinion based upon facts.   

I am proud to live in a city that is now a national leader in cancer prevention and women’s health!

Our go it alone President

An era of bipartisanship.....that's what the President promised right after the election.  Less conflict, more comity.  But last night the President once again took the approach that has defined his Administration, one that has caused his government to be such a remarkable failure - he choose to fight, alone.  By choosing this path, inevitability, he will end up once again reminding the world the limits of American power, the Presidency and of course his own very inadequate leadership.  While his words may have been noble and strong, there is something very classically tragic about what is unfolding in Washington right now. 

Bush's allies keep dwindling.  Just yesterday Tony Blair, his primary Iraq partner, announced that he will start reducing the number of British troops in Iraq.  Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative stalwart, announced he was joining Republican Senators Collins, Hagel and Smith in opposing the President's plan.  And the only Democrat he could evoke was the former Democrat Joe Lieberman, who in one of the most politically provocative - and farcical - moves of the night, was called on to convene a bi-partisan working group to help win the war on terror.

I'm also a little more than worried about the threats in the speech made against Syria and Iran.  Are they idle threats, political positioning, or is the President seriously looking at attacking other nations in the region? Given what a remarkable failure our Iraq strategy has been, how is this something that is being seriously considered? 

Of all the things I've read since the speech the most helpful was a news analysis from the NYTimes this morning.  Some excerpts:

By stepping up the American military presence in Iraq, President Bush is not only inviting an epic clash with the Democrats who run Capitol Hill. He is ignoring the results of the November elections, rejecting the central thrust of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and flouting the advice of some of his own generals, as well as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq.

In so doing, Mr. Bush is taking a calculated gamble that no matter how much hue and cry his new strategy may provoke, in the end the American people will give him more time to turn around the war in Iraq and Congress will not have the political nerve to thwart him by cutting off money for the war...

“It’s more than a risk, it’s a riverboat gamble,” said Leon E. Panetta, a Democratic member of the Iraq Study Group and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. “There’s no question that under our system he’s going to be able to deploy these troops without Congress being able to stop him. But he’s going to face so many battles over these next few months, on funding for the war, on every decision he makes, that he’s basically taking the nation into another nightmare of conflict over a war that no one sees any end to.”

....

After Democrats swept the November midterm elections, people both inside and outside the administration expected the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to provide Mr. Bush with a face-saving exit from the war. Mr. Bush made favorable reference to the study group on Wednesday night, noting that he had accepted some of its 79 recommendations.

But he rejected its central notion, that the United States should set a timetable for scaling back combat operations and mount a new diplomatic offensive to engage Iran and Syria. Mr. Bush concluded that those recommendations were not a recipe for victory, but rather, as he said after a meeting with Mr. Maliki in November, a recipe for “a graceful exit,” a path he did not want to pursue. At their meeting, Mr. Maliki presented Mr. Bush with a plan calling for Iraqi troops to assume primary responsibility for security in Baghdad, shifting American troops to the periphery of the capital. Instead, Mr. Bush concluded that the United States would have to take a central role, because the Iraqis were not capable of quelling the sectarian violence on their own.

In a sense, it is a predictable path for Mr. Bush. This, after all, is the same president who lost the popular vote in 2000, was installed in the White House by a 5-to-4 vote of the Supreme Court and then governed as if he had won by a landslide. And this is the same president who, after winning re-election in 2004, famously told reporters that he had “earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”

But no American president has been able to prosecute a war indefinitely without the support of the American public. With polls showing fewer than 20 percent of Americans supporting increasing troop levels in Iraq, Mr. Bush and those Republicans who support him know that the new policy will be a tough sell.

“The American people have no reason in the world to think it’s going to work just like the president paints it,” said one of those backers, Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, “but I think the American people, in their usual good sense, are going to wait around for a while and say, ‘Mr. President, you’ve taken us down a lot of roads in Iraq, let’s go down this one and see if it works.’ ”

The question for Mr. Bush is just how long the American people, and their elected representatives, will wait.

Finally, by taking this "riverboat gamble," one other thing the President has probably "sacrificed" is bi-partisan progress on a whole host of other pressing issues facing the nation today.

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