Usually, there are lots of reasons for progressives not to love supplemental spending bills. And I won't argue that this one is perfect. But before you get too queasy, consider six ways that progressives in Congress and the man at 1600 Pennsylvania turned "more of the same" into "change." Perhaps most important, the bill offers shifts in momentum that progressives can build on -- prioritizing economic support for poorer countries, even in an economic downturn; stopping the advance of the conservative effort to turn back the closing of Gitmo and ending of torture; and ending the apparently ceaseless expansion of defense budgets. It also marks various brands and blocs of progressives coming together to promote each other's goals -- i.e., successfully managing American's security and international engagement. And that's worth showing a little love.
1. It marks the first turn-back of conservative efforts to push the Obama Administration to the right on torture. Some progressives want to force the Administration to release photos of Abu Ghraib abuse -- others believe that allowing Senator Lieberman and Graham to set that policy legislatively takes away the Administration's freedom of action and sends the wrong message about what photos might be suppressed, and why. And they won!
2. It makes it clear that the priority pathway for Guantanamo detainees is civilian trials in United States courts. Even as Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and their wacky friends continue to suggest that American courts and prison guards can't do their jobs -- the same institutions that currently hold dozens of convicted terrorists, including the only convicted 9-11 conspirator -- Congress explicitly endorses bringing detainees to the US for civilian trials. That's a welcome rebuke to the drumbeat of "Khalid Sheikh Mohamed infiltrates your supermarket" we've been hearing on the Senate floor for the last month. I don't want to downplay the importance of the points still in contention -- where and how we imprison convicted detainees, and how we convince other countries to take in detainees if we don't take any ourselves. But with civilian trials a process begins which puts some of those decisions clearly in the hands of the executive and legislative branches -- and inside the rule of law, which was progressives' goal all along. Without civilian trials, no pathway to the rule of law exists. *Sometimes, the devil really is in the details. And these are devilish on both national security and human rights grounds. I don't want word getting out on where detainees are going 45 days in advance. Downgrade this to 'waiting to see the next move.'
3. It will move money to prevent meltdowns in countries hit hardest by the economic crisis. That's what the IMF money is for -- Pakistan, Hungary. And no, this isn't your 1990's "Washington consensus" lending, with the kind of conditionality that the left loves to hate. This is in some ways the IMF returning to its original core mission -- stepping in as a temporary lender-of-last resort to economies in dire straits. The countries in question want the money. And, fiscal conservatives, it's a loan from us to the IMF. Backed by gold reserves. We get it back.
4. It builds Obama's credibility overseas. Obama jammed a major increase in IMF support for poor countries hard-hit by the economic crisis into the April G20 Summit, over the objections of Europeans who wanted to focus only on re-writing market regulations and leave struggling countries (like Pakistan) to fend for themselves. Moving this money to the IMF in just two months will make it clear globally that Obama can deliver on his promises and heighten the likelihood that others deliver on theirs as well. And, as CAP's Nina Hachigian points out, this will increase our credibility at the IMF at a moment when China is building its own oomph.
5. It's smaller. In a break from Bush Administration practice, the Obama Administration shifted a significant proportion of the Iraq and Afghanistan warfighting expenses back into the regular budget -- where they can be analyzed and debated and held up against other priorities.
6. It could be the last of its kind. The Obama Administration has also pledged to move all of the war-fighting expenses that are actually regular and foreseeable into the regular budgets. So there's a decent chance that, in future, members of Congress from all sides will lose the ability to push unpopular projects through by tying them to money for the troops on the ground.