Compromise or compromised?

Harry Reid hails a no-timeline plan as "great progress."

Published May 23, 2007 1:59PM (EDT)

Imagine that you're a Democratic leader in Congress, and imagine that you've been advocating a timeline for bringing our troops home from Iraq. Now imagine that you and your colleagues are going to move ahead on a bill that provides the president of the United States with an additional $96 billion in war funding without any kind of timetable at all.

How would you handle yourself?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she "likely" won't vote for the compromise deal congressional Democrats have reached -- it could come to the House floor as early as today -- because it doesn't include the timetable that she thinks is essential.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that when you really stop to think about it, the bill represents "great progress" because it will contain a requirement that the president report back to Congress as to whether the Iraqis are meeting a series of benchmarks.

Report back?

Reid admits that the benchmark provisions in the new bill are "extremely weak," but he insists that they ought to be viewed as a success anyway. "For heaven's sake," he says, "look where we've come. It's a lot more than the president ever expected he'd have to agree to."

The sad fact: Reid may be right about that. Given the way Reid and some of his colleagues are rolling over on the single most important issue facing the country, why should Bush ever expect that he'll ever have to agree to anything?

And it's not just the timetable we're talking about there. As the New York Times reports, "senior Democratic officials" are also acknowledging that the final bill Congress produces will "probably be stripped of other features that Mr. Bush had previously resisted, including readiness standards that would have prevented troops from being returned to Iraq within one year of serving there or without adequate training and equipment unless Mr. Bush signed a waiver determining it was necessary."

Yes, the Democrats' compromise may require the president to live with about $20 billion in spending that he didn't want as well as an increase in the federal minimum wage. But how many Americans have been killed over the past four years because we didn't spend enough on agriculture? How badly has our standing in the world been hurt because our minimum wage isn't as high as it should be? How many of us voted for a change in direction last November to ensure that there's more money in the federal budget for military base alignment?

Eighty-nine percent of Americans say the war in Iraq will be a "very important" issue as they go to the polls in 2008. But no worries, really. Rahm Emanuel says the bill Congress will pass this week "marks the beginning of the end of the Iraq war," and the Democrats are promising that they'll return to the idea of a timeline for bringing the troops home when the next defense appropriations bill rolls around. George W. Bush must be quaking in his boots.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Harry Reid Iraq War Nancy Pelosi D-calif.