Second chance: Will Senate Democrats do the right thing?

Democrats hold a slim majority in the U.S. Senate, so slim that any attempt to keep their promise to the voters to end the Iraq War via legislation seems doomed, since they don’t have the votes to over-ride the veto President Bush has vowed to issue. But this week, as the Senate debates a new $649 billion budget for the Department of Defense, they have a second chance to do the right thing: de-fund Bush’s tragic and disastrous wars and shift those expenditures to the nation’s critical needs. The question is, will they?

This spring Senate Democrats took it on the chin in editorials, columns and commentaries nationwide when they voted to authorize more than $100 billion in a separate bill to continue funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps the good senators thought the public was just kidding when we voted them into office on the strength of their promises to get us out of the war. But when the polls started coming out, it became clear that the American people were more than slightly disappointed with Congress’ “business as usual” approach—especially where funding the war is concerned.

The latest polls show President Bush’s approval rating is at 29 percent…the lowest of his time in office. But the approval rating for Congress is even lower! Polls done by CBS, Newsweek, Gallup, NBC and Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg at the end of June found Congressional approval ratings ranging from 23 to 27 percent. If that doesn’t move even the most sedentary, undecided, fence-sitting Democrat to action, they ought to take a look at their disapproval numbers, which run from 64 to 71 percent—roughly the same percentage of the public that wants us out of Iraq.

Obviously, these are not good numbers for the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. After all, it took Bush nearly seven years to fall this low—or maybe it took seven years for the American public to realize just how much baloney Bush has been peddling from the bully pulpit in the form of propaganda, fear-mongering and cover-ups in his attempts to make it look like we’re winning a war that we’ve already lost. But make no mistake about it, that part of Bush’s Great Game, at least, is over. Just this week ABC News reported that the White House is “in panic mode” over the mounting defections of Republicans unwilling to continue Bush’s wars.

Given this opportunity, and especially with the president and his disintegrating administration on the ropes, what will the Democrats do? Consider that the proposed $649 billion defense spending bill, with the additional hundreds of billions in separate war appropriations, means this country will soon be draining its treasury on military spending to the tune of $2 billion a day.

While it’s hard to put that kind of number in perspective, consider that a 1.35 megawatt wind generator currently costs about $1 million to purchase and install. Two billion dollars would buy the nation 2,000 wind turbines. What that means in real life is that we could supply all of Montana’s electricity needs (approx 2,000 megawatts) from windpower with just one day’s worth of war funding.  Of course we could also do a lot of other great things with the money now being spent to manufacture weapons and wage wars. Two billion bucks a day could send a lot of kids to college debt-free—what a radical idea—or institute real universal health care, or bail out Social Security, for instance.

The decision now before the U.S. Senate is whether the world’s only remaining superpower really needs or can afford to spend this outrageous amount of money on the military. In the past, Congress has basically allowed itself to be bullied by Bush’s rhetoric that if “we don’t fight them over there, we’ll be fighting them over here” so we need to “support the troops” at all costs. Given the rise, not fall, in global terrorism incidents since Bush initiated his futile wars of aggression, however, one could reasonably conclude that spending more on the same activities—or “staying the course,” as the president likes to say—will only engender more terrorism and more international hatred toward the U.S., further imperiling us in the future.

Seems like it would be easy for the Senate to weigh all these considerations and find the administration’s request for massively increased military spending unjustified, unnecessary and unwise—especially considering that the proposed new level is more than twice what was being spent during the Cold War era, and far surpasses the military spending of any other nation on earth.

Perhaps, to help the good senators in their decision making, they might find it useful to see just where a good portion of this money is going by reading a newly released book titled Blackwater—The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, wherein author Jeremy Scahill reveals the ugly machinations between top-level Bush administration officials and Blackwater USA, the company that hires and deploys former special forces military personnel from around the world on contract to our government.

Would our senators be shocked to know that we are now using former Central American death-squad goons to fight our wars? Or that hundreds of Chileans who formerly carried out General Augusto Pinochet’s brutal regime and “disappeared” thousands of their own countrymen and women are now cutting loose on the Iraqis? Maybe our senators would even become slightly curious at the billions of taxpayer dollars being spent on activities that we can’t even verify because they’re classified “black ops.”

Senate Democrats have a chance to get answers to some of these questions in the coming weeks—and they have a second chance to live up to their campaign promises and finally stop the insanity of the Bush wars. The question remains: Will they?

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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