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Tim Walz — War-funding vote means Iraq debate continues

Yesterday, the Congress of the United States voted on funding for the Iraq War. Instead of having the opportunity to consider a reasonable compromise that would reflect the will of the American public and scale back the U.S. commitment in Iraq, my colleagues and I were forced to choose between giving the president a blank check and providing our troops with the funding they need.

Several weeks ago, my colleagues and I passed a supplemental funding bill that tied our troop presence in Iraq to the Iraqi government’s progress in meeting benchmarks of success. I supported that bill because it held the Iraqi government accountable to standards set by President Bush earlier this year and it provided incentives for the Iraqi government to govern itself. I was disappointed when, despite his earlier commitment to these standards of success, the President did an about-face and vetoed that legislation.

The spending bill we passed Thursday provided the needed funding for our Armed Forces in Iraq, while also funding veterans’ and active-duty military health care beyond what the President requested. This new bill still requires the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks of success. However, instead of tying the U.S. troop presence in Iraq to the Iraqi government’s success in achieving these benchmarks, the new bill cuts their foreign aid if the Iraqis do not meet the benchmarks.

Although critics on both sides will see Thursday’s votes as a sign that Democrats caved in to the president, I do not believe that to be the case. I voted for the supplemental funding yesterday because it is the only option I had to ensure our troops in the field have the resources they need.

A clear majority of Americans are opposed to the President’s "surge" plan and want to bring our forces in Iraq home. However, our system of government allows the president to use his veto pen to prevent Congress from doing so. When the president decided to veto our previous Iraq spending bill, Democrats in Congress had only two options: gather a super-majority to override his veto, or take a new course. We in Congress do not have that super-majority, so we cannot force the president to accept a bill that ties our troop presence in Iraq to reasonable measures of success so we can ensure that our military has a winnable mission.

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And so, we must find a new course. I would like to believe that if the Congress withheld funding for Iraq, President Bush would eventually negotiate with us on compromise legislation to meet our military’s needs, force the Iraqis to take responsibility and begin to bring our soldiers home. But over the past few weeks I have witnessed a very different and disturbing reality.

The truth is, throughout this debate the president has been unwilling to compromise. He made it clear that if my colleagues in Congress and I voted against this newest funding bill, he would not relent. The president refuses to consider any legislation that would take away his blank check in Iraq and as commander in chief, he has the authority to continue this war despite the wishes of the American public and a majority of Congress.

My fear is that if we had not provided the funding the president requested, he would have kept our solders in Iraq regardless of whether they had the resources they need to complete their mission. I spent 24 years serving in our Armed Forces and I cannot allow that to happen. The only way I can moderate the president’s recklessness is to ensure he does not leave our soldiers in Iraq without the funding and equipment they need.

Some advised me to vote against continued funding for the war, in order to show my unhappiness with the way the president has handled it. I could not do that. I came to Congress to make hard decisions on behalf of the people of southern Minnesota and in this case, I believe my first responsibility is to ensure the safety of those Minnesotans who are serving in Iraq by making sure they have the resources they need. The president may be willing to play a game of political chicken with our troops, but I am not.

I am not happy about this legislation; I would have preferred to vote on a compromise package that holds the Iraqi government accountable for its own security and begins to bring our soldiers home. Unfortunately, the president made it clear that he is unwilling to consider a proposal like that.

Thursday’s vote is not the end of the debate on the war in Iraq. Instead, the discussion continues in Congress — and across the country — about how best to bring our troops home and allow the Iraqis to govern themselves.

Tim Walz, a Democrat, represents Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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