Serious About No War in Iran? Put in on the Supplemental

This week Senator Jim Webb introduced legislation that would bar the President from attacking Iran without Congressional authorization. He announced his intention to attach it to the President’s request for “supplemental” funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But “Democratic leaders, who indicated general support for the Virginia Democrat’s plan last week, are still deciding whether they will attach it,” to the supplemental, the Washington Times reports.

Last month, Representative Murtha said he intended to attach language preventing an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization to the supplemental in the House. The Washington Post reported that Speaker Pelosi “strongly endorsed” doing so, but as of this writing the House Democratic leadership had not yet firmly committed itself to attaching this language. Meetings are ongoing.

Failure to attach this language to the supplemental would be hard to justify. In the debate over the “nonbinding” resolution against President Bush’s “surge” into Iraq, we saw that the Senate was incapable of passing even this, because it could not muster 60 votes to defeat a filibuster. The Senate filibuster is a “two-way store.” Under Senate rules, it only takes 50 votes to confirm a right-wing judge to the Supreme Court, but it takes 60 votes to increase the minimum wage, protect workers’ rights to organize, or oppose the Bush Administration’s policy in the Middle East.

And even if 60 votes could be found in the Senate to bar an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization, freestanding legislation, if binding, would almost certainly be vetoed by the President, meaning that for this provision to become law, Congress would have to override a Presidential veto, an almost certainly impossible undertaking.

The supplemental, on the other hand, is “must pass” legislation. It is not likely that Senate Republicans will dare to filibuster it over a provision barring an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization, and not likely that the President will veto it over such a provision. Attaching the provision against attacking Iran is the best chance – perhaps the only chance in the foreseeable future – for this provision to become law.

Of course, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Senate Republicans would filibuster against such a provision, and not beyond the realm of possibility that the President would veto it. [But note that threatening to do so is one thing, carrying through on the threat is another.]

One cannot be certain now who would get the “blame” for such a temporary impasse [putting to the side, for the sake of this discussion, the question of whether delaying funding to continue the war in Iraq is something blameworthy.] But given that the public is opposed to an attack on Iran, and the legislation simply requires the Bush Administration to receive Congressional authorization for such an attack, it’s more likely than not that the Republican side would get the blame and have to back down.

But even if this turned out not to be true at either stage, it would be straightforward to test. Put the amendment in, let the Republicans filibuster – thereby declaring themselves for war with Iran without Congressional authorization – and if necessary, remove it. There is nothing to be gained by capitulating on this in advance.

Similarly, in the unlikely event that President Bush vetoed the supplemental because it forbade an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization – thereby declaring his intention to attack Iran without Congressional authorization, contrary to his current rhetoric – the Congress, if it so wished, could pass a supplemental without this provision the next day.

Administration officials acknowledge that the supplemental does not constitute an “emergency” in the sense that U.S. troops in Baghdad are going to run out of bullets if the supplemental is not passed and signed next week. The supplemental is supposed to increase the amount of money available to the end of the fiscal year. They have money in the pipeline, and they can move money around. There is plenty of time for Congress to consider what conditions it wishes to attach to the supplemental.

You can ask your Senators to support attaching the “no attack on Iran” language to the supplemental here:



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