Berkeley and Oakland's own Barbara Lee (Photo: motherjones.com)The US House of Representatives took one small step toward ending the war in Iraq today, passing by the narrowest of margins a spending bill that includes a controversial "time-table" for withdrawal. In addition to providing subsidies for salmon fishermen, citrus growers, and the peanut storage biz, the bill, which amounts to $100 billion in funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, calls for most American troops to be out of Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008 and sets benchmarks for Iraqi and American performance in the theater. Failure to meet those benchmarks could precipitate early withdrawal.
Still, we're a long way from the exit. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill. (A Senate measure on Iraq, which seems to be quite different, has yet to be debated). House Democrats labored to secure the bare minimum for passage. They had to work so hard not so much because of defections among the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, a coalition of conservative Dems, many of whom were recently elected, but because of liberal members of the party who opposed the measure as funding qua funding for the war. Nancy Pelosi faced a real threat from members of her caucus who would vote on conscience rather than, it seemed, pragmatism.
In the end, the liberal coalition's machinations became one of the major storylines. I was initially pleased to see yesterday that our local congresswoman here in Berkeley and Oakland, Barbara Lee, was set to cede to Pelosi and withdraw her opposition to the bill along with colleagues Lynn Woolsey (California-6), Maxine Waters (California-35), and Diane Watson (California-33). As it turns out, Lee was one of the 14 Democrats who voted against the bill. Pete Stark (California-13), by the way, voted "present." So what gives? In a bizarre twist House Democrats gave a standing ovation this morning to Lee, Woolsey, and Waters. The trio had apparently convinced enough of the other members of the Out of Iraq Caucus to vote in favor of the bill that they freed themselves up to vote their conscience. Those are I guess, the perquisites of power.
A united Republican opposition will prevent the House from overturning a Bush veto, but it's heartening to see the competence and the stewardship of House Democratic leaders like Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, and Steny Hoyer. A responsible yet timely withdrawal from Iraq can't happen without cohesion in the Democratic ranks. It appears now that even the idealists understand that.