Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, and Ali Frick / The Progress Report – 2008-01-20 23:06:29
Bush Plays Politics With Soldiers Pay
Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, and Ali Frick / The Progress Report
WASHINGTON (January 17, 2008) — Yesterday, the House passed a revised version of the defense policy bill, authorizing $696 billion in defense spending, including $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress had already passed this bill in December, but was forced to take up the measure again after President Bush issued a “pocket veto” of the bill on Dec. 28.
Though the President had not expressed concerns with the bill earlier — and in fact campaigned vigorously for its passage — Bush suddenly changed his mind over the recess after the Iraqi government worried about a provision allowing victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue the state, which could leave the government liable for abuses from Saddam Hussein’s reign.
The Iraqi government threatened to withdraw $25 billion from American banks if the President signed the measure. The bill Bush vetoed in December included a 3.5 percent pay-raise for soldiers, and the veto also held up “some bonus programs for airmen.”
NOT A POCKET VETO
According to the Constitution, the president must either sign or veto every bill that comes to his desk. Though Bush is quite familiar with the traditional veto, he needs to brush up on the law governing the use of the pocket veto. If the president does not act on a bill for 10 days after it arrives on his desk, and if during that time Congress adjourns, the bill dies — a situation known as a “pocket veto.”
In this case, the Senate had never adjourned over the holidays, continuing to hold “pro-forma” sessions throughout December. If these sessions were enough to block recess appointments from the President, they were surely enough to show that the Senate had not adjourned and to allow Bush to send the bill back to Congress for reconsideration.
Though the House had adjourned over the winter break, “it ha[d] designated its clerk to receive communications from the White House, including veto messages, meaning that bill return was possible.” If a bill can be returned to Congress, it cannot die with a pocket veto.
“In misusing his veto power,” Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland, explained, “Bush was attempting to grab a power for himself and his office that the Constitution’s framers emphatically and repeatedly denied to the president: a nearly unlimited, absolute veto.”
WHITE HOUSE’S FEARMONGERING
Bush’s veto was not only legally questionable, it was deeply hypocritical as well. Throughout November, the White House continually bullied Congress to quickly pass the defense authorization. It threatened to veto the bill — and hold Congress responsible for canceling soldiers’ pay raises — if lawmakers attached any troop withdrawal deadlines.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that if Congress didn’t pass the bill Bush demanded, “the Army and Marine Corps are immediately forced to begin shifting funds between accounts in order to keep operations running. And the Pentagon will soon be forced to send furlough notices for as many as 100,000 Army and Marine Corps civilian employees at bases around the country.”
“At the Pentagon, the spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said that officials had shifted $4.5 billion from other accounts to keep war operations going, but that the coffers would soon run dry. ‘The Army now is on course to run out of operations and maintenance money in early February,’ Mr. Morrell said. ‘The Marine Corps will run dry in early March.'”
The Pentagon released a chart suggesting that the Army would cease to function if Congress did not act promptly. “They are scaring people,” Rep. John Murtha (R-PA) said of the White House’s bullying tactics. “They are scaring the families of the troops. That’s what’s so despicable.”
BUSH PUTS IMMUNITY ABOVE SOLDIERS’ PAY
Congress passed an appropriations bill that kept the armed services well-funded and gave soldiers a 3.5 percent pay raise — greater than the increase Bush had wanted. Yet once Congress left for the holidays, Bush made an about-face and declared his objection to the bill.
“The Administration should have raised its objections earlier, when this issue could have been addressed without a veto,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. By vetoing the bill, Bush effectively prioritized the Iraqi government’s desire for immunity over the well-being of the troops.
Yesterday’s compromise agreement “grants the president wide authority to waive any provision of the section on lawsuits by terrorism victims as it relates to cases involving Iraq. But it also urges the administration to negotiate with Iraq ‘to ensure compensation for any meritorious claims based on terrorist acts committed by the Saddam Hussein regime.'”
The bill passed the House 369-46 and is expected to clear the Senate next week. Yesterday, former Bush political adviser Karl Rove accused Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) of playing “chicken with our troops” by “voting against vital funding for our men and women in uniform in a time of war.” In fact, it is Bush — through a legally dubious maneuver that delayed funding and pay raises — who toyed with the soldiers.
UNDER THE RADAR
ADMINISTRATION — WHITE HOUSE
ROUTINELY REUSED E-MAIL TAPES
The White House yesterday admitted that it routinely recycled its computer backup tapes of e-mail before 2003, “raising the possibility that many electronic messages, including those pertaining to the CIA leak case, have been taped over and are gone forever.” The White House began deleting millions of e-mails from its servers in March 2003 and started recycling tapes in Oct. 2003, meaning all incoming and outgoing e-mail during that interval may now be permanently lost.
“The significance of this time-period cannot be overstated: the U.S. went to war with Iraq, top White House officials leaked the covert identity of Valerie Plame Wilson and the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into their actions,” noted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the watchdog group whose lawsuit prompted this latest disclosure. If the deleted e-mails prove unrecoverable, the White House may be in violation of two federal statutes [that] “require presidential communications, including e-mails involving senior White House aides, to be preserved for the nation’s historical record.”
ECONOMY — BACHMANN: I’M ‘PROUD’ THAT
‘WE HAVE PEOPLE WORKING TWO JOBS’
AND ‘LONGER HOURS’
Topping Congress’s agenda as it returns this week is a plan to “jump-start the economy and try to shorten the slowdown that many economists say has already begun to take hold.” Yesterday, Rep. Eric Cantor (VA), the chief deputy Republican whip in the House, unveiled his proposal to stimulate the economy. His legislation — the so-called Middle Class Job Protection Act — does nothing for the middle class. Instead, it reduces the corporate tax rate by 28 percent.
At a press conference unveiling the stimulus proposal, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) declared, “I am so proud to be from the state of Minnesota. We’re the workingest state in the country, and the reason why we are, we have more people that are working longer hours, we have people that are working two jobs.” Bachmann’s version of the American Dream is apparently working two full-time jobs and struggling to get by.
This week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that corporate tax cuts, such as the one proposed by Cantor, “may be less cost-effective in the short term” and less effective than a stimulus plan consisting of “tax rebates, extended unemployment benefits and a temporary increase in food stamps.”
After hearing testimony from CIA Acting General Counsel John A. Rizzo, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) indicated yesterday that CIA official Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. “ordered the destruction of videotapes depicting agency interrogation sessions even though he was directed not to do so.” Rodriguez was previously said to never have been “instructed to preserve them.”
The Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, a group dedicated to fighting illegal immigration, launched an effort to draft CNN’s Lou Dobbs into the presidential race as an independent.
In recognition of the difficulty in passing timelines for withdrawal from Iraq, anti-war groups will instead “push for legislation to prevent President Bush from entering into a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could keep significant numbers of troops in Iraq for years to come.”
Americans are “revved up — and ready to vote.” According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, 62 percent of voters “say they’re more enthusiastic about voting than usual. That’s 17 percentage points higher than at this point in 2000 and 6 points higher than in 2004 — a year in which November turnout was the highest in a generation.”
Asked about an incident this month involving Iranian speedboats and U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said “he did not know who was responsible for a threat made over the radio that brought the United States and Iran close to confrontation.”
Bush Threatens Veto
Over Troop Pay Raise,
Military Widow Benefits
(May 17, 2007) — The Bush administration today threatened to a veto a House defense spending bill over a 3.5 percent pay raise for US soldiers and a $40/month increase in benefits for military widows, among other provisions. The legislation passed the House today 397-27.
ThinkProgress noted last night that the White House opposed the pay raise for troops:
Troops don’t need bigger pay raises, White House budget officials said Wednesday in a statement of administration policy laying out objections to the House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill. […]
The slightly bigger military raises are intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that stands at about 3.9 percent today. Under the bill, HR 1585, the pay gap would be reduced to 1.4 percent after the Jan. 1, 2012, pay increase.
Bush budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases “unnecessary.”
The White House says it also opposes:
• a $40/month allowance for military survivors, saying the current benefits are “sufficient”
• additional benefits for surviving family members of civilian employees
• price controls for prescription drugs under TRICARE, the military’s health care plan for military personnel and their dependents
House Minority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) said today he was “shocked and disappointed in the President’s threat,” noting that Bush’s problems with the bill are over measures that benefit “the very people who sacrifice the most in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and who serve at home and overseas.”
VoteVets chairman and Iraq veteran Jon Soltz adds:
Believe me, even with the current benefits that get paid out by the Department of Defense and insurance that many troops buy into, those who lose spouses in Iraq aren’t sleeping in mounds of cash. The increase proposed by Democrats will mean a hell of a lot.
At VoteVets.org, we’ve heard absolute horror stories on the type of cutbacks that widows and widowers have had to make because the government doesn’t provide enough to those who lose a loved one in war.