Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Politics of Biden’s MRAP Bill Hits Home in Iowa

Just as Beau Biden, a captain in the Delaware National Guard, had predicted in August at the Iowa Democratic Party Veteran’s Caucus Presidential Extravaganza in Des Moines, the vote on the emergency funding for the war in Iraq war has come back into play. Beau, the attorney general of Delaware, spoke on behalf of his father, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, and told the room full of veterans that his father’s Democratic rivals’ “no” vote on the funding, despite the attached Biden amendment to fast track funding and production for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, would come back to haunt them.

Beau’s words, prefaced with a common Biden family phrase “mark my words,” recently hit home in Iowa a few days ago when four members from the Ottumwa-based 833rd Engineer Company were wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. While patrolling an area near the Iraqi city of Samarra, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated next to their vehicle. Two of the soldiers were seriously injured and flown to a military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, while the other two were treated and returned to duty.

"They were in an RG-31 armored vehicle," Lt. Col. Gregory Hapgood, chief spokesman for the Iowa National Guard told the Des Moines Register. "If they'd been in a Humvee, they would have been killed. A Humvee couldn't have withstood the explosion."

Biden’s Democratic rivals, Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, and Barack Obama of Illinois, voted against the bill but have stated they support appropriations for the MRAP– just not when it is specifically tied to an Iraq war funding bill that has no timelines for bringing the troops home. There’s the political rub that Beau alluded to in August. By voting against the funding bill, the Democratic candidates chose to send a political message to President Bush while simultaneously garnering support from the anti-war voting contingency.

In doing so, they risked the possibility of delaying production of vehicles that will protect the troops in what soldiers on the ground call “real-time”– meaning the next five minutes of their lives, which could be their last. In the war zone, there is no such thing as political time, and Beau, whose unit is scheduled to deploy to Iraq early next year, understands this difference. Beau also understands how the Republicans operate and how they will use such a vote against the Democrat who wins the nomination. Now that the MRAP issue has hit home in Iowa, Beau’s prediction has moved from the abstract to the concrete, something that may resonate with Iowa voters.

Asked about his differences with Clinton, Edwards and Obama on when to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home, Senator Biden was quick to highlight this distinction at a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids today. “Clinton, Edwards and Obama say they cannot commit to bring our troops home until 2013. How can they say that, when they and the rest of the candidates ripped the skin off my back in May, when I was the only Senator running to vote to fund the troops?” Biden asked 150 people gathered at the 238 Teamsters’ Union.
“I voted to give our troops all the protection they needed. How can the three leading candidates, one of whom took out advertising in Iowa saying we need to vote “no,” say they’re going to keep troops there until 2013, yet they’re not going to fund them?” Biden asked. “Folks, that’s what I mean when I say we need to start telling the American people the truth. They’re telling you what you want to hear: End the war. But they are acknowledging they can’t end the war with any plan they have.”

Related reading: John Carlson’s column, “Biden Takes a Hit by Funding Vehicle That Saved Iowans” (Des Moines Register)

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

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