“They like this war,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Republicans last week. “They want this war to continue…Republicans have made it very clear that this is just not George Bush’s war, this is the war of the Republicans in Congress.”
These were certainly un-collegial words, coming from the most powerful Democrat in Congress. But you must excuse the Speaker if she is impolitic at times — she is under an awful lot of pressure at the moment.
After a full year of partisan rancor and insubstantial political votes taken on the House floor, her Congress is crashing on several important deadlines this week as members prepare to leave for Christmas. And Pelosi is about to be owned by the Republican minority.
That’s right: By the end of this week, she will likely have lost five major legislative battles, almost simultaneously.
1) The first and biggest Republican victory comes in the form of the omnibus spending bill, which funds nearly every government agency. Not only does the bill, which was handed down yesterday morning, match President Bush’s funding levels, but it also contains none of the so-called “policy-riders” that Republicans had most feared, such as the abolition of the government’s Mexico City policy and even an expected expansion of union-backed “prevailing wage” rules. Democrats had no choice — they simply ran out of time, mostly because they thought it to their advantage to run down the clock (on this and the issues that follow). The best they seem to have come up with is a cut in abstinence education funding and money for needle exchanges in the District of Columbia. They are even patting themselves on the back for keeping out certain Republican provisions (English in the workplace), as though they were in the minority.
Conservatives have complained loudly (and rightly) that the bill is something of a “Christmas Tree,” containing more than 9,000 earmarked pork projects and $11 billion in so-called “emergency funding” (actually a widely used accounting gimmick to make the final number appear closer to the president’s request). The bill has other defects as well, yet Republicans are amazed at what they have gotten. They can’t believe it, and they are making heroic (if unsuccessful) efforts not to crow too loudly before it passes. This summer, Republicans could not have imagined negotiating Democrats down to this funding level — $933 billion in regular discretionary spending, right at the level of President Bush’s request.
“It’s probably better than anything we would have passed, if we were still the majority,” one conservative Republican Senate staffer remarked sardonically on Monday. He was not the only Republican I could find to make this admission.
2) The omnibus itself represents a major Republican victory, but that’s not all. The bill currently includes only funding for the Afghanistan war, but by the time it passes it will include full and unconditional Iraq supplemental funding, ending yet another legislative crisis in the Republicans’ favor. The Iraq money will be added by amendment in the Senate. This portion of the amended bill will then pass the House largely on Republican votes.
In essence, Democrats are capitulating on the Iraq question for a second time this year, after being elected with a clear mandate to hasten the unpopular war’s end — a bitter double-defeat that comes after dozens of symbolic votes on the war. And Democratic House members will be voting (probably today) to start a process that they know will continue the war funding — voting for it before voting against it. It will enrage the Left and, oddly, make President Bush — who has never understood, negotiated with, nor cooperated well with even Republican congresses — appear to be some kind of legislative mastermind.