United States News Digest
House Votes Up Iraq Supplemental Bill with Withdrawal Date
The House of Representatives passed by 218-212 on March 23 the $122 billion Iraq Supplemental bill, which includes an August 2008 withdrawal date for U.S. combat troops. A similar bill was scheduled to be taken up in the Senate the following week. A visibly unstable President Bush responded immediately with a press conference, at which he surrounded himself with family members of U.S. military deployed to Iraq. Bush denounced the House passage of the bill as "an act of theater" which has no chance of becoming law. Bush said that it will delay funding the troops, who require the funds by "April 15 or face disruption," but then announced that he would veto it.
Excluding the current appropriation, Congress has provided more than $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than $350 billion for the Iraq War alone, according to the Congressional Research Service. More than 3,200 American soldiers have been killed in the Iraq War, now in its fifth year.
Kucinich Posts Video on Impeachment
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has posted a 3 1/2-minute video on his website, in which he asks, "Do you think it is time for impeachment?" Kucinich continues, "We are in an interesting condition in this country, where we are told to take impeachment off the table, and keep on the table a U.S. military attack against Iran. This past week, in the Congress of the United States, I noted that the administration has threatened aggressive war against Iran .... We cannot let this administration go any deeper into this journey, into destroying democratic governance, trashing our Constitution, forgetting the very purpose of this nation. America was never meant to be a nation forever on the warpath. It was meant to be a nation which also had the capacity to 'promote the general welfare.' We need to reevaluate the direction of this administration by looking at its conduct in office, by determining whether it has faithfully followed the laws of our nation. I began this week with a speech on the floor of the House, which warned the administration that its actions toward Iran already constitute a case to ask the question about impeachment. So I'm asking you, what do you think? Do you think it's time?"
Wolf Announces New Initiative on the Middle East
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who was a co-initiator of the Iraq Study Group, announced March 22 a new Middle East initiative, that will "combine economics and faith." It will include the participation of David Abshire, the president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, which was also involved in the ISG; former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who will develop the economic side of the initiative; and former Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), who will work the "faith" side of it. Wolf said that the aim of the initiative is to "build relationships; to prepare the soil" for diplomatic efforts being undertaken by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others. Hall reported that he had just returned, with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, from a visit to the region, where he found "a sense of urgency." He said people there "want peace now. They want something done in the next six months, because they expect a lot of trouble."
1,100 Reports of Substandard Conditions in VA Hospitals
One thousand, one hundred reports of substandard conditions in veterans' hospitals and clinics across the country have come to light in the wake of the Walter Reed scandal, the Washington Post reported March 22. The conditions were exposed when Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson was forced to order an investigation as the story of conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center broke in the press. The VA has conceded that at least 10% of the reports involve serious maintenance problems, with mold spreading in patient-care areas, numerous leaks in the structures, and infestation of bats cited. The VA is claiming that the other 90% of the problems are "routine," which, spelled out, include worn-out carpet, peeling paint, mice sightings, and dead insects.
Meanwhile, a separate review of the VA system for handling disability claims is underway, with initial findings presented at a March 13 hearing before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, reported to the committee on her study, which showed the system to be on the verge of breakdown due to growing demands for services created by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She reported that the VA system currently has a backlog of 600,000 disability claims, and will see 638,000 new, first-time claims in the next five years, due to the wars alone; 400,000 by the end of 2009.
Daniel Bertoni of the Government Accountability Office echoed Bilmes, saying that, after ten years of research, the GAO found the Federal disability programs in urgent need of attention and transformation.
Proposed New Rule Slashes Billions from Medicaid
In a March 21 letter to the House and Senate leadership, the National Governors Association (NGA) wrote that the changes proposed in a new rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), "are a significant cost shift to the states that governors strongly oppose." They add that, "The proposed policies represent a significant Medicaid policy change that will result in cuts of approximately $5 billion in federal Medicaid spending over five years." The proposed rule would impose a new cost limit on payments to public hospitals, limit permissible sources of the non-Federal shares under Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and impose new requirements on providers in those programs.
The NGA, along with the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, and the American Hospital Association, is organizing Congressional opposition to the new rule, and that opposition abounds. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said, on March 21, that he and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) had sent a letter to the CMS, opposing the rule. The letter was signed by 58 other Senators, indicating widespread bipartisan opposition to the rule. That, he said, "should be an indication to the CMS that they are acting in a way that's contrary to the desires of Congress."
GOP Roundtable on Maglev and High-Speed Rail
House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.) held a high-speed rail (HSR) forum on Capitol Hill March 20, hosting six witnesses to present why and how the U.S. should build HSR, and even magnetic levitated trains. This forum focussed on truly high-speed raili.e., 250 mph or fasterdetailed how far behind the U.S. is compared to most other countries, and laid out the feasibility for development in the U.S. Charts and tables graphically showed that Europe and Asia are building the technologies, but the U.S. lacks any manufacturing of HSR equipment.
Most witnesses argued for lifting Federal restrictions to private development of these projects, while one argued for a "Federal initiative" with long-term funding, stating "we have spent far too much time debating this issue and no major system has been installed." This witness argued for a future: "We must begin this program now so that next generations will have a vast, safe, energy efficient ... mode of transportation...."
The full rail subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on international HSR for April 19, with no domestic HSR hearing set as yet.
Tempo of Wars has U.S. Military in a 'Death Spiral'
The continued high-operational tempo and growing deployments in Iraq have left both the Army and the Marines incapable of effectively responding to a contingency, should one arise, according to senior military leaders in recent Congressional testimony, the Washington Post reported March 19. Army and Marine units are either in Iraq or preparing to go back. They are unable to train for the full range of military missions required of them, and are suffering from equipment shortages across the force, because so much ground and aviation equipment is being worn out at rates two to six times what was originally planned for.
There is no longer even a strategic reserve of ground forces to respond to a new contingency. Fully 88% of National Guard units are rated "not ready," yet the Pentagon has scheduled four National Guard brigades to deploy to Iraq over the next 12 months. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Pete Schoomaker told the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 15, "We have a strategy right now that is outstripping the means to execute it." Other officials privately describe the situation as a "death spiral" in which the ever-more rapid pace of war-zone rotations is consuming more and more equipment and wearing out the troops.
Nor is the problem limited to the ground forces, as Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne highlighted in remarks on March 19. Pilots are flying KC-135 air refueling tankers that are 50 years old, and some of those planes may be flying until they're 70; C-130E Hercules transport planes built in the 1960s and '70s cannot be used to haul cargo because of cracks in the wing boxes, and all of the Air Force satellites have to be replaced in within the next ten years, to name just some of the challenges facing the Air Force.
In response to a question from EIR on the industrial base, Wynne said that it will take 30 years to recapitalize the Air Force fleet. He chalked that up to budgetary constraints, but he also noted that the aerospace industry is a lot smaller than it used to be, and no longer has the capacity to produce hundreds of new planes per year. Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Magnus summed up the problem in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, on March 14. "Most production lines to replace legacy aircraft lost in support of the Long War [i.e., Bush's war on terrorism] are no longer active," he said.