John Edwards is not helping the cause of the Democrats who run Congress. And he has no interest in doing so, because the less Democratic voters think of their leaders on Capitol Hill, the less they’ll think of Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Mr. Edwards’ chief rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But in exacerbating the party base’s restlessness with its House and Senate leadership, Mr. Edwards is contributing mightily to that base’s deeply flawed reading of the political realities in Congress when it comes to ending the Iraq war.
He was at it again on Sunday when he appeared on “Meet the Press.” Calling Mr. Edwards on his strident anti-war rhetoric (and his efforts to clearly distinguish himself from Mrs. Clinton), moderator Tim Russert asked if Mr. Edwards now wants Congress to cut off funding for the war—a step that House and Senate leaders have, for practical and political reasons, refused to consider.
Mr. Edwards, no doubt fully aware of the political risks of supporting a funding cut-off, denied supporting such an approach, then reiterated what has been his standard prescription for a Congressionally-induced end to the war. “The way for the Congress to do that is to ensure that every funding bill that goes to this President actually has a timetable for withdrawal,” he told Mr. Russert.
“And if Bush vetoes that, they should send another bill with a timetable for withdrawal, and they should stand their ground. There’s a difference between doing that and just cutting off funding for the troops.”
Fair enough—except what Mr. Edwards advocates is essentially cutting off funds. By entering into a stalemate over war funding with the President (passing the same legislation over and over, only to have it vetoed and without a two-thirds supermajority to override it), money for the war would eventually run out. Mr. Russert pointed this out. In that situation, Mr. Edwards replied, President Bush would either “have to meet the timetable for withdrawal, or the money will dry up and he’ll have to start withdrawing troops out of Iraq. Either way, the Congress has done exactly what the American people asked them to do in November 2006, which is what they should do.”
That’s a simplistic and self-serving take. The approach Mr. Edwards favors—passing the same funding-with-timetable legislation ad nauseam—means that, technically speaking, the President would be the one responsible when the funds finally run out, because he would have vetoed money that the Democrats had approved to find them.
But this kind of thinking is too cute, akin to the Republicans’ adamance in 1995 that the country would blame Bill Clinton for that fall’s infamous government shutdown. It didn’t work.
By following the Edwards approach, Democrats would face the same political risks and consequences that would come with actually passing legislation to cut off the funds. There would be no difference.
War opponents will point out how unfair this all is—that in adopting either of the approaches outlined above, Democrats in Congress would be acting to bring about an end to the war, and that the President and his allies would be the ones playing politics.