Wars and Congress: Now What?

By David Swanson

On Tuesday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill already passed by the Senate that funds a $33 billion, 30,000-troop escalation in Afghanistan. The vote was 308 to 114. What could the good news possibly be?

The first good news is that, while we had no more than 35 congress members who would vote against war funding a year ago, or perhaps 55 when it was an easy vote with no pressure, we’ve now got 114. That’s serious progress. That’s a far more dramatic increase than we’ve seen in the number of congress members willing to vote for a non-binding unspecified timetable for a withdrawal. That number rose from 138 last year to 162 on July 1st (although the legislation was somewhat stronger this year). In other words, willingness to express mild interest in ending the war has reached a plateau. Willingness to take serious action to end the war is rapidly catching up. Of course, both have to top 218 before we win.

The really good news is that we finally have an essential ingredient in any recipe for legislative change: a record of which legislators are with us, and which against us. Almost any effective campaign to pass, or — as in this case — defeat, legislation requires at least three stages. First you run a trial to identify who stands where. Then you reward and punish at the polling booth in the next election. Then you try again and possibly succeed. Until now, we’ve been unable to reach step one. The “leadership” in Congress has packaged war bills in unrelated measures, or — as was done four weeks ago — passed bills without holding a vote at all. Now we finally know, unambiguously, who stands where. The question is whether we’re willing to act on it.

Additional good news is that over 40 percent of the Democrats voted No. This compares with 7 percent of Republicans. While the Republicans are in the minority in the House, more Republicans than Democrats voted for this bill. The war now belongs first to the Democratic leadership, second to the Republican caucus, and only third to the Democratic caucus. Last year we were unable to identify where Republicans stood, because they all voted No in response to an unrelated measure packaged into the bill.

Here are the names of who voted yes, who voted no, and who did not vote.
http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2010/roll474.xml

While not voting is often a dodge, I’m assuming it’s an accident or a typo in the case of Congressman Alan Grayson who lobbied for No votes. [I’ve been informed he had personal business and put into the record that he would have voted No.]

The bad news is that the 308 congress members who defied public opinion and voted for war funding are not afraid of us. The Republicans think their supporters are happy to put their grandchildren into debt to China as long as it funds wars, even if it makes us all less safe and wrecks our economy. And they’re right. The Democrats think their supporters are outraged and offended by such behavior but will meekly turn around and vote for them anyway, out of fear that a Republican would be worse. And they’re right.

We need a new approach that not only seeks to keep anti-war representatives in power, and to replace Republicans with anti-war Democrats, and to replace pro-war Democrats in primaries with anti-war Democrats, and to replace pro-war Republicans in primaries with anti-war Republicans, but also to defeat pro-war incumbents even if their opponent is pro-war too and even if it means replacing a Democrat with a Republican. I don’t see any other way of making these people listen to us in the coming months and years. And you can’t get much worse than anyone who keeps funding wars.

Congress members are coming home for August. It is time to punish and reward, spank and thank, and vote out and reelect in November. It is also time to push the strongest opponents of war in the House to begin forming an effective vehicle for victory. The new Out of Afghanistan Caucus, or the Progressive Caucus, or the group of progressives who signed an anti-war letter on Tuesday, or some other collection of leading anti-war voices in Congress needs to establish a caucus with strict requirements for membership, including a commitment to oppose all legislation that funds non-defensive wars. Such a caucus should raise funds and supply election funding to its members, allowing them some independence from the pressure of the pro-war party “leadership.” We have 114 names to start with. Resources are available at http://defundwar.org

As the peace movement begins working with labor and civil rights groups this fall, we need to make sure everyone understands which congress members are funneling all the money we need into wars and which ones are not. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to build the sort of unified coalition that will be required this coming winter if we are to pass cuts to the military budget and prevent cuts to Social Security.