Friday, May 23, 2008

Boehner Column: Using Our Troops to Score Political Points Does Not Honor Their Sacrifice

By Rep. John Boehner:

Earlier this year, Congress worked quickly to pass a bipartisan stimulus package to help middle class families and small businesses and boost our economy. We were able to accomplish this because leaders in both parties passed a clean bill, refusing to let it turn into a “Christmas tree” with all sorts of unrelated spending attached to it.

Unfortunately, this good example wasn’t repeated when it came time to craft legislation to fund our troops in harm’s way. Instead, Democratic congressional leaders tried to use and abuse our troops by attaching tax hikes and spending increases to what should have been a clean bill to fund our men and women in combat. Outraged legislators who support the troops and their mission refused to go along with the scheme, and it fell apart. I was among these legislators who took a stand on behalf of our troops by voting “present” on the bill instead of being complicit with the politicians’ exploitation of our military personnel.

At this point, the Majority should have done the right thing. It should have put a “clean” troop funding bill on the floor for an up or down vote, and sent it to the President. Instead, the Democratic Majority stubbornly did nothing. And the result was that Congress let our troops down by failing to pass a clean troop funding bill before Memorial Day.

The consequences of this failure are considerable. Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in early May, “We need [the troop spending bill] very badly before the Memorial Day recess. We stop paying soldiers on the 15th of June and we have very little flexibility with respect to that.”

Congress heard the Admiral’s warning. But the Democrats who run Congress didn’t heed it. Instead, congressional leaders saw an opportunity to advance their political agendas. Knowing the troop funding bill is popular and certain to pass, politicians in Congress tried to attach tax increases and unrelated spending increases to it – in effect, exploiting our troops by forcing them to carry unpopular political provisions they knew could not pass Congress on their own.

Attaching these “riders” is the sort of stunt that has made Americans extremely cynical about Washington . That anti-war forces in the U.S. House would employ this scheme right before Memorial Day was irresponsible at best and depraved at worst.

Congress owes our military men and women the funds they need for success in Iraq and Afghanistan . That means passing a bill free of unnecessary riders trying to enact an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and add-ons such as $210 million to cover cost-overruns for the U.S. Census Bureau. The American people know our troops are carrying a heavy burden on their shoulders, and they don’t like the idea of Washington politicians exploiting our troops by using them as a vehicle for tax hikes and spending increases. By voting “present,” we were able to stop this scheme and give Congress another chance to do the right thing by passing a “clean” troop funding bill.

Unfortunately, the Majority that runs Congress still didn’t do the right thing. Unhappy that it couldn’t get its way, the Democratic congressional leadership left town for the Memorial Day recess without holding a vote on a clean bill. Then it had the audacity to launch political attacks against legislators who had refused to go along with its cynical scheme, distorting their “present” votes as a vote against the troops. Never mind that dozens of Democratic legislators, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) herself, voted “no” on the troop funding bill itself.

If, as Admiral Mullen warned Congress, the Pentagon is forced to stop paying soldiers by the middle of June, it will negatively affect military families while our troops are fighting overseas. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen should not have to worry about the financial well-being of their husbands, wives, sons, or daughters while they’re halfway across the world facing insurgent bullets and roadside bombs.

Our fighting men and women deserve to be honored for the sacrifices they made and continue to make in defense of our freedom. Lawmakers in the U.S. House can show their gratitude by passing a clean spending bill and giving our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan the resources they need to win and come home safely. It’s disappointing that the Democratic Congress was so devoted to the idea of using our troops to carry unrelated spending and tax increases that it went home for Memorial Day without passing legislation to fund our men and women in harm’s way.

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