The Best and Worst of Congress in 2009
This is an excerpt from Peace Action West’s 2009 congressional voting record. Click here to see the voting record and learn how your representatives voted on key issues from Afghanistan to military spending, Gaza to Guantanamo.
Grassroots power and common sense defeat wasteful F-22 fighter jets
When the Obama administration released its first Pentagon budget in early 2009, they cut back on obsolete weapons systems such as the F-22 fighter jet. Unfortunately, some members of Congress didn’t get the message that the Cold War is over. The House added money for F-22s at a long-term cost of $2 billion, and the Senate followed with $1.7 billion for seven F-22s.
Peace Action and the wider arms control community responded in force with a clear message: No money for Cold War weapons! With pressure mounting, Sens. Levin (D-MI) and McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment to strip the funds, which passed in a vote that split both parties (Senate vote #235). When it became clear that the F-22 boosters were losing, the House stripped the funds from their version of the budget (House vote #661).
Slow but steady progress on Afghanistan
As President Obama prepared for escalation in Afghanistan, advocates of non-military alternatives undertook the difficult job of convincing members of Congress to publicly question the reliance on increased military force.
The first sign of progress was the vote on Rep. McGovern’s (D-MA) amendment requiring the Defense Department to present an exit strategy by the end of the year (House vote #453). Although the amendment failed, a majority of Democrats voted for this important milestone. Progressives like Reps. McGovern, Lee, Woolsey, Honda, Ellison, Kucinich and Grijalva and Sens. Feingold and Sanders led the charge in speaking out for a new approach. Republican Rep. Jones succeeded in getting some of his colleagues on board.
As we kept the pressure coming, concern in Congress grew. Speaker Pelosi remarked that the plan to send more troops would be hard to sell to Congress because of constituent pressure. The roster of skeptics grew to include defense-minded politicians like Rep. Harman (D-CA) and Sen. Levin (D-MI). The pace of progress can be frustrating, but it’s important to recognize how far we’ve come as we work to promote smart, non-military alternatives.
Goodbye to nuclear pork in the stimulus
The Senate Appropriations Committee took advantage of the economic crisis to sneak $1 billion for the nuclear weapons complex into the stimulus package. And who would pay for this pork? A group of centrist senators tried to lower the overall price of the stimulus by cutting Pell Grants and $1.1 billion for Head Start. Our supporters knew that the last thing our bloated nuclear weapons complex needed was an infusion of cash.
Peace Action helped build a coalition to expose the attempt to sneak nuclear weapons into the stimulus. Our members wrote letters to the editor and flooded the Senate with emails and phone calls. Facing mounting outrage, the House and Senate removed the wasteful funding from the final version of the bill.
Harsh sanctions on Iran that won’t work and will backfire
While President Obama began delicate negotiations with Iran, Congress couldn’t resist meddling. This resulted in the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, a bill punishing companies who sell refined petroleum to Iran. There is little evidence that these sanctions can change the Iranian regime’s behavior, and they are likely to backfire.
But politicians didn’t let facts get in the way of their desire to be “tough on Iran.” After Iran’s tumultuous presidential election, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), lead sponsor of the bill, pushed forward with a vote in the House, and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) advanced an even more aggressive bill in the Senate. Despite the past failures of this approach, the House passed the bill by a lopsided 412-12 in December (House vote #975). The Senate passed Dodd’s bill by an unrecorded voice vote in early 2010, and the final version of the bill is pending.
Undermining an even-handed approach in Gaza
As the conflict in Gaza raged in early 2009 and casualties rose, the international community united around the call for an unconditional ceasefire to quell the violence. Plagued by dated, counterproductive thinking about what it means to be “pro-Israel,” the House brought a one-sided bill to the floor that chronicled many criticisms of Hamas and explicitly called for all blame to be placed with one side of the conflict. At a time when a unified call for a ceasefire could have created enough international pressure to end the conflict and save lives, the House voted a whopping 390-5 in favor of this biased resolution that gave cover for continuing the conflict (House vote #10).
After the fighting finally came to a close, the UN enlisted renowned human rights investigator Richard Goldstone to launch an inquiry into the conflict. Goldstone, a self-described Zionist who led investigations in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, accepted the mandate only when he determined he could investigate both the Israeli government and Hamas. The Goldstone Report concluded there were crimes committed on both sides of the conflict. Still, Congress condemned the report as “irredeemably biased,” and urged the administration to rebuke it in a 344-36 vote (House vote #838).