Happy Memorial Day eve…eve…eve.
A new war funding bill is on its way to President Bush that is conspicuous in what it does not include. As The Washington Post reports:
Congress sent President Bush a new Iraq funding bill yesterday that lacked troop withdrawal deadlines demanded by liberal Democrats, but party leaders vowed it was only a temporary setback in their efforts to bring home American troops.
War opponents dismissed the bill as a capitulation to Bush and said they would seek to hold supporters in both parties accountable. But backers said the bill’s provisions — including benchmarks for progress that the Iraqi government must meet to continue receiving reconstruction aid — represented an assertion of congressional authority over the war that was unthinkable a few months ago.
Bush, who had vowed to veto any legislation with restrictions on troop deployments, announced he would sign the $120 billion package, which was approved 80 to 14 last night in the Senate, after a 280 to 142 House vote.
He said the 18 benchmarks should signal to the Iraq government that “it needs to show real progress in return for America’s continued support and sacrifice.” But he added, “We’re going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months” ahead.
The focus now shifts to September, when the new funding runs out, and when U.S. commanders say they will be able to assess the results of an ongoing troop buildup.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, announced that he will remove Iraq war funding from the 2008 Pentagon spending bill that is expected to reach the House floor in July. Instead, Murtha said he will bring up a separate Iraq funding bill in September, when Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to deliver a key status report to Congress.
Meanwhile, a New York Times/CBS News poll shows that more Americans than ever disapprove of the war in Iraq. As The New York Times reports:
Americans now view the war in Iraq more negatively than at any time since the invasion more than four years ago, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
Sixty-one percent of Americans say the United States should have stayed out of Iraq and 76 percent say things are going badly there, including 47 percent who say things are going very badly, the poll found.
Still, the majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war as long as the Iraqi government meets specific goals.
President Bush’s approval ratings remain near the lowest of his more than six years in office. Thirty percent approve of the job he is doing over all, while 63 percent disapprove.
More Americans – 72 percent – now say that “generally things in the country are seriously off on the wrong track” than at any other time since the Times/CBS News poll began asking the question in 1983. The number has slowly risen since January 2004. Then, 53 percent said the country was “seriously off on the wrong track,” and by January of this year it was 68 percent.
Colorado congressional members are proposing their own plans for bringing troops home. As Chris Barge of the Rocky Mountain News explains:
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Denver, and Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, are pushing identical bills in each house that would force President Bush to implement the recommendations made months ago by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
And Reps. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, and Diana DeGette, D-Denver, introduced a bill Thursday calling for redeployment of all National Guard troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.
Their rationale: The Guard is needed more at home than overseas to handle natural disasters and combat domestic terror.
The 15,931 National Guard troops in Iraq and Afghanistan represent about 11 percent of the U.S. military in the region, according to the Congressional Research Service. An additional 13,000 National Guard troops have been mobilized as part of the recent surge.
“Their equipment is in Iraq getting damaged, often beyond repair, and the general policy that the Army will replace their equipment has been suspended,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “For training purposes, this is highly detrimental, and even more evident and worrisome is the impact of equipment shortage on natural disaster relief.”
Governor Bill Ritter signed a dozen more bills yesterday. April Washington of the Rocky Mountain News has the rundown:
On Thursday, Ritter’s gold-trimmed black pen was on fire.
The governor signed a dozen measures into law including legislation aimed at regulating taxicab companies, stepping up oversight of state contracts, creating a commission for the blind and closing what lawmakers dub the single largest loophole in campaign spending.
So far Ritter has signed 318 bills and vetoed two.
An additional 165 bills passed by the legislature, which adjourned May 4, are awaiting action by the June 4 deadline.
A half-dozen cabbies looked on as Ritter signed a measure intended to crack down on taxicab companies accused of abusing and exploiting immigrant drivers.
House Bill 1114 requires the state Public Utilities Commission to regulate the rates companies charge drivers to lease cabs.
Nearly 300 African immigrant cabbies swarmed the Capitol this spring, complaining they work an average of 12 to 16 hours daily, mostly to pay for company leases of as much as $500 a week and services fees charged when passengers pay with credit cards.
“There are a lot of independent taxi drivers who pushed for legislation to bring more transparency to this industry,” Ritter said.
Kim McGuire of The Denver Post reports on efforts by local mayors to encourage water conservation:
Local supplies appear to be rebounding this year in part because several Front Range cities saw water use dramatically drop during the drought years.
For example, the 1.1 million customers of Denver Water, the state’s largest water provider, have cut use by an average of 11 percent since 2001 to 120,000 gallons a year, according to agency data.
Similarly, Aurora utility officials say their customers have decreased their consumption by 20 percent since 2002. “The drought reminded us how water is precious and will always be scarce in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said.
Water providers say it is time for water customers to make those changes permanent, even though reservoirs are close to near-normal levels thanks to a wet spring.
Hickenlooper was joined on at the news conference on the state Capitol steps by Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer, Arvada Mayor Ken Fellman, Northglenn Mayor Kathie Novak, Centennial Mayor Randy Pye and Lafayette Mayor Chris Berry. Gov. Bill Ritter also joined in the call for continued water conservation.
Colorado voters may soon get a chance to vote on state spending limits, as Jason Kosena of The Fort Collins Coloradoan reports:
Colorado voters might get a chance next year to vote on a constitutional amendment that could bring drastic changes to state spending limits, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff said Thursday in Fort Collins.
Romanoff said he will introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would temporarily suspend the “single-subject” rule on amendments and allow the Legislature to craft a reform package that would allow voters to simultaneously address reforms to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the Gallagher amendment on property taxation, and to Amendment 23 which mandates annual increases to public education funding.
“The (Colorado) Constitution is hopelessly tangled up in these provisions,” Romanoff, a Denver Democrat who will leave the House after next year because of term limits, said at a meeting of the Coloradoan editorial board.
Fort Collins Sen. Steve Johnson, a moderate Republican who sits on the powerful Joint Budget Committee, said he is skeptical of Romanoff’s plan and pledge to bring a bipartisan approach to the process.
“I would want to know what the reform proposal is before agreeing to suspend the single-subject rule,” Johnson said. “I like (Romanoff), but I am not sure I would trust a proposal that the Democratic leadership and the governor would propose because of concerns it would include a lot of amending to TABOR and not much amending to Amendment 23.”
Romanoff, who is against removing taxation limits established by TABOR, said the state’s Constitution is specific in how it can be amended but said, “If it would make it easier for folks inside and outside the Capitol to support this plan and get consensus on the proposal I would be willing to work with Sen. Johnson on that.”
Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the state Constitution is hundreds of pages long and contains detailed and sometimes conflicting directions on the state budget. Most of those spending restrictions were the result of citizen initiatives approved by voters.
The poop has really been flying in politics this week. On Wednesday a Greeley woman was cleared of charges that stemmed from an episode last year when she returned a Marilyn Musgave mailer to the congresswoman’s office after filling it with dog poop.
Yesterday, according to The Huffington Post, a bird dropped a weapon of mass digestion onto the sleeve of President Bush:
As President Bush took a question Thursday in the White House Rose Garden about scandals involving his Attorney General, he remarked, “I’ve got confidence in Al Gonzales doin’ the job.”
Simultaneously, a sparrow flew overhead and left a splash on the President’s sleeve, which Bush tried several times to wipe off.
Deputy White House Press Secretary promptly put the incident through the proper spin cycle, telling ABC News, “It was his lucky day…everyone knows that’s a sign of good luck.”
Have a great Memorial Day weekend, everyone. May a bird poop on you and your loved ones.