Mr. President, meet the Constitution. Constitution, I'd like to introduce you to President George W. Bush. It's been a long six years since Mr. Bush took office, and it's high time the two of you got to know each other - especially with that whole oathy-type thing. It's probably going to be easier to do all that "preserve, protect, and defend" thing if you have some sort of vague sense of what it is you are defending.
This overdue introduction is particularly necessary today because the president, in his Rose Garden press conference, demonstrated a particularly egregious failure to comprehend one of the most basic principles of our system of government.
Instead of passing clean bills that fund our troops on the front lines, the House and Senate have spent this time debating bills that undercut the troops, by substituting the judgment of politicians in Washington for the judgment of our commanders on the ground, setting an arbitrary deadline for withdrawal from Iraq, and spending billions of dollars on pork barrel projects completely unrelated to the war.
The problem with that statement is that we live, at the moment, in a republic. We do not live in a military dictatorship. That is why, in the United States, the military is supposed to be subordinate to the civilian leadership. The founders also wanted to make sure that the powers of the government were diluted - having experienced first hand all of the fun of monarchy, they wanted to make sure that they stayed way the hell away from that.
This is why, at least in theory, the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the military but Congress is the branch of government that has the power to tell the President where, when, and why the military should be used. The President is Commander-in-Chief, but Congress declares and pays for wars. Congress gets to tell the president when and where the military that he commands should fight, and the President gets to take it from there.
Unfortunately, this President does not seem to be willing to acknowledge that. He is, after all, the "decider," and the rest of us - and especially Congress - need to understand and acknowledge that, and do what he wants. His press conference today makes it clear that he is not willing to accept the will of either Congress or the American people in this regard:
Democrat leaders in Congress seem more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than in providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq. If Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement, then they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay.
That's right. Those damn Democrats better get this politicking out of their system and get back to the important "business" of giving Bush what he wants. After all, that's what they're there for, right?
So what happens if they don't? Apparently, the President is going to keep fighting as best as he can without the money:
If Congress fails to act in the next few weeks, it will have significant consequences for our men and women in the Armed Forces. As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Pace, recently stated during his testimony before a House subcommittee, if Congress fails to pass a bill I can sign by mid-April, the Army will be forced to consider cutting back on equipment, equipment repair, and quality of life initiatives for our Guard and reserve forces. These cuts would be necessary because the money will have to be shifted to support the troops on the front lines.
The Army also would be forced to consider curtailing some training for Guard and reserve units here at home. This would reduce their readiness and could delay their availability to mobilize for missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. If Congress fails to pass a bill I can sign by mid-May, the problems grow even more acute. The Army would be forced to consider slowing or even freezing funding for its depots, where the equipment our troops depend on is repaired. They will also have to consider delaying or curtailing the training of some active duty forces, reducing the availability of these forces to deploy overseas. If this happens, some of the forces now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq may need to be extended because other units are not ready to take their places.
If Congress does not act, the Army may also have to delay the formation of new brigade combat teams, preventing us from getting those troops into the pool of forces that are available to deploy. If these new teams are unavailable, we would have to ask other units to extend into the theater.
In a letter to Congress, Army Chief of Staff General Pete Schoomaker put it this way: "Without approval of the supplemental funds in April, we will be forced to take increasingly draconian measures, which will impact Army readiness and impose hardships on our soldiers and their families."
It's important to remember just how "a bill I can sign" is being defined here - that would be a funding bill that gives the President the money that he is asking for without any of those pesky strings. After all, just who do those Congresscritters think they are, anyway? It's like they think that they have the right to tell him what he should and should not do with the military. Why, it's almost enough to make you think that they've been sneaking out and reading the Constitution behind his back or something.
Just in case those statements weren't enough to clearly demonstrate just how far the President is willing to go in this regard, he made things more explicit:
In a time of war, it's irresponsible for the Democrat leadership -- Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds. The bottom line is this: Congress's failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. And others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to. That is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people.
At this moment, my wife is in the combat zone. She has a new assignment that will probably bring her home fairly soon, but the families of the headquarters of her division just found out that they are already going to be waiting longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. My brother-in-law was supposed to have returned from Afghanistan a couple of months back, and he hasn't yet. My brother is getting ready to head back into the combat zone again. Since July of 2004, the three of them have logged over 40 months in the combat zone. Speaking as one of the American people, I find that unacceptable.
Members of Congress say they support the troops. Now they need to show that support in deed, as well as in word. Members of Congress are entitled to their views and should express them. Yet debating these differences should not come at the expense of funding our troops.
A translation for those of you who aren't familiar with the Imperial dialect of Bushese: "They're entitled to have their views and express their views. They're just not entitled to act on them."
Congress's most basic responsibility is to give our troops the equipment and training they need to fight our enemies and protect our nation. They're now failing in that responsibility, and if they do not change course in the coming weeks, the price of that failure will be paid by our troops and their loved ones.
The President is, it would appear, fully prepared to hold the American military hostage until he gets his way. He is willing to do this because he thinks that he can convince the public that he's not the guy holding the gun to the troops head. But he will be.
Congress, under the Constitution, is the branch of government that has the power to raise an army. Congress, under the Constitution, is the branch of government that has the power to declare war. Congress, under the Constitution, is the branch of government that has the power to decide how money should be spent. The President, under the Constitution, has none of those powers.
If Congress sends him a military funding bill that the President does not believe he can live with, he can veto the bill. If Congress cannot override the veto, the funding bill does not become law. Congress is not, however, then obliged to send him another funding bill that doesn't have the things he found objectionable. Congress can send him the same damn bill again, with the same strings attached, and that is exactly what they should do if that happens.
As far as I can tell, the only difference between what the President is trying to pull here and what goes on when the cops are staring down someone who has a gun to a hostage's head is the scale. The President is standing there, and his message comes down to this: "OK, Congress. Give me the money, no strings attached, or the troops get it." It's extortion by threat on a massive scale, and the military are the ones being threatened.
I do not want my loved ones or my friends to get hurt, but Congress has got to stand up to the President. We do not have kings in this country. We do not let one person - whether he thinks he is the "decider" or not - make all of the decisions. If Congress caves in to him (as they probably will), he's just going to do it again and again.
It's time for Congress to show courage and leadership. It's time for them to remind the President that he's not the "decider."
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