I spoke with Barney Frank this evening about his decision to switch his vote and support the supplemental appropriations bill that will fund the war in Afghanistan now that the Senate has added $5 billion to fund a $100 billion line of credit for the IMF.
Originally, Frank was one of 51 Democrats who voted against the supplemental. But yesterday, Republicans threatened to pull their support from the bill over the addition of the IMF funds, which left Democratic leadership scrambling for 18 votes. They were forced to postpone the vote on the conference report that had been scheduled for today.
I contacted Frank’s office to ask why he switced his vote. He called me back himself, and immediately started talking before I had a chance to say "hello."
"The IMF bill is a much better bill," he said. "The Republicans are taking advantage of the fact that the original vote was very lopsided in order to defeat the IMF. The dilemma is that the supplemental would pass anyway, and if enough of us don’t stand up for it now the IMF provisions will fail."
I asked him if he was basically saying that the IMF was a worthwhile trade-off for the supplemental. He shifted gears quickly, read me like a dirty book and said that it was also the only chance to get the Lieberman FOIA amendment out of there.
"You can have the war and the IMF, or the war and the pictures," he said.
I admit I didn’t realize that when the Senate passed Joe Lieberman’s Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 that it was attached to the supplemental. The amendment, supported by Obama, allows the government to suppress photographs of detainee abuse even if FOIA requires disclosure. It passed on a voice vote, and as Chairman Frank was quick to point out, the Republicans and ConservaDems who were hinky about funding the IMF would have no trouble with Lieberman’s FOIA travesty.
"I told them [the administration] that they have no chance of passing this if the pictures are in it," said Frank. "There are many Democrats who are very upset about that."
"So are the photos still in there?" I asked.
"I don’t know," he said.
"Well, you say that the bill won’t pass until the pictures are out — are they in the conference report?"
"This isn’t a quiz!" he snapped. "There is no conference report. I believe it will come out. I let them know that if it doesn’t come out, it won’t pass. If they insist on the photos, they won’t get the IMF."
I called the Speaker’s office after we spoke and found out that despite the fact that the vote was scheduled for Friday, no conferees had yet been assigned. Which means that this whole thing is a mess.
And they know it.
Leadership needs 18 votes out of the 51 Democrats who originally voted against the supplemental in order to pass this bill. Since 35 of the 51 are members of the original Out of Iraq caucus, and several freshmen (including Alan Grayson, Eric Massa and Donna Edwards) ran as strong anti-war candidates, I don’t think that challenge will be easily surmounted. In addition, 33 members subsequently signed on to a letter expressing concern after the Senate added the IMF funding — and 12 of those originally voted "yea" on the supplemental.
Add to that the Democrats who will bristle at being forced to sign on to Lieberman’s civil liberties nightmare and I think opponents of the war have a very good chance of defeating the supplemental, or forcing conditions on its passage.
As to the looming threat of the administration joining the Blue Dogs up with the Republicans to jam through war funding and Lieberman, I don’t share Rep. Frank’s concerns. It’s a PR nightmare that won’t give the administration the IMF funding that President Obama promised at the G20, and it threatens to split the caucus, unify the war’s opponents and make the battle lines very clear.
Please call key members of Congress who have consistently stood against funding the war and ask them to vote against the supplemental.