neljapäev, mai 06, 2004

$25 Billion

This is why I think Kevin Drum may be wrong about the political impact of Bush’s new Iraq funding request. If the Democrats continue to play this right, it won’t leave Bush looking so good.

As this opening volley illustrates, the Dems appear ready to come at Bush from the right on this one, not the left. That’s exactly the right way to handle this. And that’s the difference between this and the $87 billion vote. If they concede the need for more funding from the start, which I think they do, and actually call for even more funding, they can say Bush is the one who isn’t supporting the troops enough. More importantly, though, they can make this a debate about fiscal irresponsibility and political deception on Bush’s part instead of about the war in Iraq itself.

As we all know, and as the White House has acknowledged, Bush planned on requesting $50 billion in November after the election. Instead, he’s asking for $25 billion now and $25 billion later. Regardless of how he may try to play this to his advantage politically, this is not a debate Bush wants to have right now. It reflects all of his weaknesses: fiscal irresponsibility, lack of planning, political manipulation of security issues, deception, infatuation with unaffordable tax cuts, stubbornness.

The Democrats can keep pointing out that Bush appears to be intentionally low-balling the figure so he can claim the deficit is smaller in October. They can ask why he waited so long. The political maneuvering at work is blindingly obvious. They’ll have a chance to question how much Bush is willing to do to support the troops if he originally wanted to hold the money back until after the election. This also gives them a chance to take another round of swings at his tax cuts, which aren’t terribly popular. Again, Bush is going to be asking for spending without paying for it. The Democrats will try to pay for it by repealing tax cuts and Bush will refuse. And they get to bash Bush for not having the foresight or political will to ask for this money sooner when everyone knew he was going to need it. Also, now that Bush is cooperating with the UN more, they can say that, after a year, he’s finally starting to listen to their advice. Why Democrats aren’t using that line already, I have no idea. They can introduce measures to spend more because Bush is finally moving toward their position and Bush and the Republicans would probably oppose them. Ultimately, though, the Democrats don’t have to vote against this bill.

My point is, if the Democrats have any competence at all, and I’m not entirely confident they do, they will turn this around on Bush. Especially if all he can do in response is whine about “supporting the troops” again. The political climate has changed enough that the public and the media are paying more attention. And unlike last time, Democrats are opposing Bush because he’s spending too little, not too much. Rove may want this debate, but Bush can’t win it if this is the Democrats’ strategy.

Kerry, however, does have a real conflict here, one created by Bush’s dishonest attacks, but a conflict nonetheless. If he votes for it, Bush will say he flip-flopped again, totally ignoring the massive shift in the situation since the $87 billion vote. And the right wing will eat that up without question. If he votes against it, Bush will say he’s not supporting the troops, even though his reason would actually be that he doesn’t support fiscal irresponsibility. Of course, both of these claims would be easily defended against if Kerry gets his act together. It’s just a matter of whether Kerry can get his message out. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear that he can.

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