PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And in Washington, sometime in the next few days the Senate will vote on a bill to provide $33.5 billion more funding to the Afghan war. And joining us now to give us his take on that is David Swanson, the founder of the website After Downing Street [WarIsACrime.org]. Thanks for joining us.
DAVID SWANSON, COFOUNDER, AFTER DOWNING STREET: Glad to be here.
JAY: So why do they need $33.5 billion more for the Afghan war? And is there going to be any opposition to this in Congress?
SWANSON: Well, they don’t, but it’s specifically for an escalation. It’s to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, most, if not all of whom are already on their way pre-funding, which is an interesting story.
JAY: So it’s not another—it’s within the numbers that Obama had previously announced in terms of the troop levels.
SWANSON: Well, the troop levels were debated back in November and December, and it was sort of a debate between the civilian commander-in-chief and the generals, which was a problem in itself. But once that debate was settled and the president had announced what he was going to do, the media stopped treating it as a debate, stopped polling on it, and just assumed that the Congress members would fund it, whatever it was, even though many Congress members back in December were swearing they would oppose this, they would deny the funding, and so forth. Now we come several months later to a situation where they have to vote yes or no on the funding for something that is already well underway, if not completed, and that will be one of many excuses that members may use to vote yes. But if they vote no, those troops can simply be turned around and brought back home.
JAY: So the first vote’s in the Senate. Is anybody likely to oppose it in the Senate?
SWANSON: Well, there may be some Democrats who oppose it, a handful, because they oppose escalating this war. The experts all treat this is a counterproductive, hopeless war on its own terms. There ought to be some opposition. But, surprisingly, I spoke today with the staff for Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma who plans to oppose it because it’s not paid for.
JAY: Oppose it to the point of filibuster, he says.
SWANSON: Yes, talked about putting a hold on it and so forth. A filibuster will depend on who he gets to join him. But he is adamant and is taking what he sees as a principled stand, regardless of whether he’s been completely consistent on past bills.
JAY: Well, his stand is simply on the finance side: if you’re going to have $33.5 billion, you’d better find a way to pay for it. So, in theory, if they found a way to pay for it, he would vote for the bill.
SWANSON: In fact, he’s going to put forth an amendment that will propose places to take the money from, including waste elsewhere in the military. And should that amendment pass, then you would have the war go ahead, the escalation go-ahead, but have the money come from somewhere else. But that amendment is almost certain to fail, and then he will oppose the bill. But he’s not alone in taking this sort of stand. Candidate Obama was not going to use emergency supplemental spending bills to pay for wars off-budget anymore. Last summer he was going to do one and only one of them, and then there would be no more. And you had people like David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, swearing they would do no more, that was the last one.
JAY: No more emergency funding.
SWANSON: No more off-budget, so-called emergency supplemental spending bills. Pay for the wars inside the normal military budget so you’re not cheating the books. And, of course, they immediately said, once they passed that one in June, that they’re going to have more of them, even though many House members were voting for it because it was the last one. So here we are with another one, and you’ll recall six months back you had Senator Carl Levin and again Chairman David Obey swearing that they wouldn’t vote for any more war funding, much less escalation funding, unless there was a war tax created to pay for it. It’s a little bit different approach from finding cuts elsewhere in the government’s budget, but it’s the same principle: we’re not going to do this unless we pay for it.
JAY: I mean, you’ve had people like Senator Webb and some others saying, you know, people have to sacrifice for this, and Americans aren’t being asked to participate in this. And one of the ways is you pay a tax to fund the war if in fact you support it. All that seems to be going away.
SWANSON: Yeah. I mean, you hear noises and commitments from people like Levin and Obey, but then they don’t follow through.
JAY: So what’s going to happen in the House? Do you think there’s going to be any serious opposition in the House?
SWANSON: There is, and the possibility, of course, is that the Republicans all vote no because they include $23 billion for teachers in U.S. schools or some other reprehensible, reckless spending that isn’t intended to kill anyone. And if you have the Republicans all vote no, for whatever cockamamie or serious reason, just as they did last June because they had put that IMF, you know, bailout for Eastern European bankers in there, then you only need 40 Democrats.
JAY: Well, is there such a thing attached to this now? I mean, do we know it’s going to be in it when it gets to the House?
SWANSON: Well, what’s come out of the Senate Appropriations Committee has an extra $30 billion or so for disaster relief for every disaster known to man—except for the war—including payments to U.S. veterans suffering from Agent Orange in Vietnam, but relief for floods and for hurricanes and tornadoes and Haiti and the rest of it, and compensation for African-American farmers who have been discriminated against, and a little bit of foreign aid, and everything under the sun. And there’s the possibility that they’re going to try to put $23 billion in there as—. You know, we used to talk about here’s $33 billion more to escalate a hopeless, illegal, immoral war, and for just $23 billion you could save all the teachers across the United States from being laid off for lack of funds at the state level.
JAY: Meaning with the equivalent kind of money.
SWANSON: Or for $10 billion less. You know, then you can take the extra $10 million and quintuple our budget for renewable energies or whatever you wanted to do. But now those things may be combined in one bill. And if that results in, as [John] Boehner and other Republicans have been talking, in the Republicans all opposing the bill, which they have no qualms about doing—they don’t fall for that, you know, you aren’t supporting the troops stuff the way the Democrats do—well, then we only need 39, 40 Democrats to vote no.
JAY: And are there?
SWANSON: Well, sure there are. I mean, a few months back you had 60 Democrats and 5 Republicans vote to end the war entirely, and unless you believe that you end a war by escalating it, then the votes theoretically are there. Last June, of course, we had 51 Democrats vote no in the House when it was easy and throwaway and nobody cared. And then, when the IMF thing was in there and the Republicans were voting no, we were able to hold on to about 32 of those, and we needed 7 or 8 more. We might have it this time.
JAY: And you were on the Hill trying to find some of those votes today.
SWANSON: Yes, back last June and again today. And there is increasing pressure, because of the economic costs, because we need the money for jobs and for everything else that’s useful, and the worst thing economically that we can do for our money, as well as in humanitarian terms, is to put it into the military, which produces the fewest jobs and has the least benefit for our economy from any place else we could invest it, and because the war is such a disaster. And this assault that hasn’t really begun yet has already failed, and the preliminary assault in Marja has already failed, and the army says that the escalation we did last year has just produced more violence, a stronger Taliban, a weaker Afghan government. You know, this is such a hopeless sell as a tough, macho, military strategy that it may not happen at all. And one way to make sure is to not fund it.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
SWANSON: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And you may not want this war budget to be funded, but if you want The Real News to be funded, you can click on the Donate button, or you can text the word "news" to 85944 and you’d be sending us $5. Thanks for joining us.
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