Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Biden Uses Bipartisan Successes to Sharpen Contrast with Democratic Rivals

While Delaware Sen. Joe Biden’s Democratic presidential rivals keep talking “experience” and “change” on the campaign trial, Biden used his 34 years of experience last month to harness change in D.C. the old-fashioned way: bipartisanship. During the last week of September, Biden reined in bipartisan support to help pass two amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill. And now Biden is touting these successes to highlight his leadership capabilities, which may prove troublesome for his Democratic rivals who opposed the Iraq funding bill in March for political reasons.

Sen. Biden stops to take questions from reporters at last month's Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola

Biden’s plan for Iraq, which establishes a federal system in Iraq overwhelmingly passed Sept. 26 by a vote of 75-23.During the vote, Biden's plan secured the support of key leaders in the U.S. Senate from both parties, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., former Chairman John Warner, R-Va., Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback, who co-authored the amendment.

Last December, Biden became the first Democrat to oppose President Bush's proposed surge of additional troops in Iraq, stating at the time, that the only way to end this war was to build a bipartisan consensus opposed to President Bush's policy. "For the first time in this incredibly divisive national debate we've been having about Iraq, a strong bipartisan majority of senators – including fully half of the Republicans – has voted to change course," Biden said in a press release. "It's the first time there is some real hope that we can put ourselves on a course to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind."

Two days later, Biden’s bipartisan legislation (Amendment 3075) passed in the Senate. The amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill boosts funding for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles by $23.6 billion, allowing the Army to replace all of its up-armored Humvees in Iraq with the MRAPs. Roadside bombs are responsible for 70 percent of casualties in Iraq – they are by far the most lethal weapon used against our troops. Mine Resistant Vehicles can reduce those casualties by more than two-thirds.

“We have no higher obligation than to protect those we send to the front lines,” Biden said in a press release. “While we argue in Washington about the best course of action in Iraq, our troops on the ground face Improvised Explosive Devices, Rocket Propelled Grenades, Explosively Formed Penetrators, sniper fire and suicide bombers every day. I am heartened to know that my amendment—with the support of Democrats and Republicans working together—will provide technology and equipment that will save American lives on the ground in Iraq.”

Biden has vowed to uphold America’s contract with the troops on the ground, regardless of the political consequences. “As long as we have a single soldier on the front lines in Iraq, or anywhere else, it is this country’s most sacred responsibility to protect them,” Biden has repeated on the campaign trial, including a stop at Prairie Lights in Iowa City.

Sen. Biden uses his speaking notes to demonstrate the MRAP's capablities to a crowd gathered at the Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City during a Sept. campaign stop

This promise and Biden’s vigilance for pushing the MRAP legislation has resonated with Iraq veterans in Iowa, including James D. Mowrer, who recently returned from a 16-month deployment to Iraq while serving with the Iowa National Guard’s 133rd Infantry Battalion. Mowrer, now the state coordinator for Veterans for Biden, cited these reasons why he wanted to work for Biden on his return.

“This is a perfect example of Senator Biden’s leadership, “Mowrer told the Iowa Independent. “Joe Biden can bring Americans together to tackle the toughest issues ahead of us. Americans on the ground in Iraq need to know, without a doubt, that whoever the next commander-in-chief is, that they will always provide the troops under their command with the best leadership and proper equipment.

Over the last six months, Biden has repeatedly called on the administration to make the construction and deployment of MRAPs and protection from Explosively Formed Penetrators a national priority and to investigate the military’s failure to field this technology sooner. "When our commanders in the field tell us that these Mine Resistant Vehicles will reduce casualties by 67 to 80 percent, I cannot understand why the Administration’s wartime budget request falls far below the stated needs of our folks on the ground,” Biden said in a press release. “Providing our troops with the best possible protection should be a shared top priority. When American lives and limbs are on the line, giving anything less that 100 percent is not enough.”

Although Biden’s Democratic presidential rivals supported the Sept. MRAP legislation, this was a point of contention the first time Biden’s MRAP amendment came up for a vote as part of the Iraq $120 billion emergency spending bill in March. The measure included a Biden amendment allocating $1.5 billion to fast-track the MRAPs. The Senate approved the legislation 80-14, with Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois casting votes against the bill.

Biden took a lot of heat from the anti-war contingency that has argued his “yes” vote on the funding bill signaled a continued support of Bush’s failed policies in Iraq. Biden has countered on the campaign trail in Iowa that some things are worth losing an election over. “The funding was not for the war but for the troops,” Biden said at a stop in Iowa City. “When pushed, my colleagues who voted against that bill said they were trying to make a point. I don't make points about the physical safety of the kids we send to war. I don't want to fly any false colors with you. It's time to tell the truth, and the truth is that as long as we have troops over there, I will provide every single thing within my power to provide for their safety.”

This is where the support-the-troops rhetoric may prove troublesome for Biden’s campaign rivals. All of them have gone on public record indicating their support for the troops in Iraq before opposing or voting against the supplemental funding bill. Biden has been quick to point out that his opponents voted against funds for the troops to make a political point by sending a message to Bush. During an appearance at the Iowa State Fair, Biden said, “What did some of my colleagues say to why they voted against the money? They said they voted against the money to make a political point. Well, there is no political point worth my son’s life. There is no political point worth anybody’s life out there. None.”

With the recent passage of the second MRAP amendment, Biden’s rivals in the Senate were able to show their support the troops without fearing repercussions from the anti-war base. In doing so, Biden’s senatorial colleagues have cast a cloud of ambiguity on where they stand regarding troop funding. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards helped contribute to the ambiguity while speaking on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday. When asked by Tim Russert, “You now are in favor of cutting off funding, aren’t you?”, Edwards responded with “No, sir. No.”

Five months ago, just before Congress was to vote on the supplemental funding bill in March, Edwards urged Congress to defeat the bill. “Any compromise that funds the war through the end of (the) fiscal year is not a compromise at all -- it's a capitulation,” Edwards said in his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations. “Every member of Congress -- every member of Congress should stand their ground on this issue and do everything in their power to block this bill.”

Edwards’ comments on Sunday prompted Biden to issue the following statement in Iowa Monday:

“I call on all the candidates running for the Democratic nomination for President -- regardless of their differing views of how to end war in Iraq -- to support our troops while they are there and as they are coming home. It is the one sacred obligation that we have to protect our men and women who are sent into battle.”

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

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