WASHINGTON D.C. –- Despite President Bush's win of a restriction-free $120 billion Iraqi War-funding bill, some Congressional Black Caucus members are trying to sweeten his defeat of the Democrats' war proposal by highlighting the victories for Hurricane Katrina, minimum wage and other domestic funds.
"I feel real good about what we've done. I think that we've changed direction as far as policy is concerned," said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C.
The highest-ranking African American in Congress, Clyburn voted for the war-funding bill. "The president did not get a blank check as he's gotten for the last four and a half, almost five years," Clyburn said. "I feel real good about what we did."
Of the 40 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, only five joined Clyburn in voting for the final passage of the war-funding bill. Thirty-three voted against it. Two did not vote.
On the other hand, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told The Black Press that he was disappointed in the passage of the war aspect of the bill; especially after Bush vetoed an earlier bill in which Democrats had pushed for restrictions in deployment of troops in an effort to begin scaling back to end the war.
"I feel very strongly that we are on the wrong course," said Obama, who voted against the bill. "And I feel that the best approach is to be in a phase redeployment that provides the troops the funding they need, but also provides them a new strategy that starts bringing them out of Iraq. We presented such a bill to the president. He vetoed it. And the bill that was on the floor last night was, I believe, a blank check that placed no restraints on him and no responsibility on the Iraqi government."
Democrats had fought adamantly for a funding bill that included deadlines for the withdrawal of troops, but Bush had vowed to veto any bill with such restrictions. Instead, the bill contains 18 benchmarks for progress in Iraq on which Bush must start reporting July 15, a much lighter option for accountability.
The deployment battle was actually a big loss for Democrats. Last November's election, which resulted in a Democratic majority in Congress for the first time since 1994, is largely viewed as a voter mandate to end the war. Congress approved the funding package May 24 with a vote of 80-14 in the Senate and 280-142 in the House.
Democrats are putting a smiley face on the bittersweet moment by boasting about the $6.4 billion in hurricane recovery assistance in the Gulf Coast; a minimum wage hike from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour; $393 million to restore funding for emergency health care for children in 11 states among gains; and $3 billion for Agriculture Disaster Relief for farmers and ranchers.
"This is the first time in 10 years that we've been able to raise the minimum wage," Clyburn said. "But, not only did we do that, we put together a package of about $4.8 billion in tax cuts for small businesses….And everybody keeps beating up on Democrats for raising taxes."
Clyburn, whose job it is to establish as much unity as possible among Democrats, said he voted for the war-spending aspect of the bill in order to remain consistent.
"I think that I did not want to be hypocritical. I thought that I needed to bite the bullet on that as I was asking people to bite the bullet…I've tried to lead by precept and example," he said.
Despite the clear Democratic loss on the war-spending bill, Clyburn says Bush also had to ease his resistance to the domestic spending, which Bush had strongly criticized for being in the bill.
"We passed a bill that provided assistance in several areas that the President has deemed, 'unnecessary spending,' "Clyburn said in a statement. "I can not think of more 'necessary' or vital funding than this."
—The Black Press