THE BLOG
04/06/2007 12:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Where is the CBC on Iraq Debate?

There has been a tremendous amount of handwringing and discontent about the slowness with which congressional Democrats are moving to end the Iraq War. Some are angry that the Democrats are being tentative about how best to end the war given their recent ascendancy to majority status leading some to wonder what is the point of throwing out the Republicans if the Democrats will show little leadership on this critical issue. This is a time for conscience and character, something Congress needs now more than ever before since Watergate. So where is the Congressional Black Caucus' - the self-styled "conscience of Congress" - in the debate over the war and the distribution of supplemental funds? The reality is, that with all its vocal opposition to the war, the CBC has not done much to lead Congress and the country out of Iraq.

Legislatively, the CBC's role is limited because the only way to end the war in the short run is through the appropriations process and this is where the Caucus has little influence. CBC members hold just 5 of the 37 Democratic seats on the full appropriations committee and just one - Sanford Bishop- on the Defense appropriations subcommittee. Bishop isn't really considered to be a "firestarter" so to speak, so it's unlikely that there will be a CBC-led push on the sub-committee to cut off funding or place significant constraints thereon. Given that reality, the CBC can only make any headway in the full committee, where long-standing and vocal critics of the Iraq War, most notably California Representative Barbara Lee, sit. While Lee is the most courageous member of Congress on Iraq given her 2002 no vote for authorization, even she can't bring Congress to its senses. Consequently, there are individual members have show great courage and leadership but the Caucus, as a group, has left much to be desired.

The most respected and experienced members of the Caucus - e.g. John Conyers and Charlie Rangel - don't chair committees with the authority to end the war. What is left are members who are either conflicted (Rep. Jim Clyburn, who is in the leadership and answerable to Speaker Nancy Pelosi moreso than the Caucus), vocal, correct but, ultimately, seen as marginalized (most notably Reps. Lee and Maxine Waters), and everyone else who opposes the war but struggles to balance that goal with the political/military reality that a hasty exit may make things worse.

The timetable measures that have been offered and talked about problematic because they all engage in congressional micromanaging of the war at one level or another. I spoke recently with a high-ranking Pentagon official who told me that DoD is sick of Bush/neo-con micromanagement and adding Congress to the mix would make everything messier. While President Bush's consistent failures and incompetence have undermined his credibility and taken away any benefit of the doubt that he might otherwise get, it's not yet clear that Congress will do much better.

All this does give the CBC an opportunity to lead, something the country desperately needs. Continued Caucus silence, however, gives CBC bashers another opportunity to take a rhetorical bat to the venerable "conscious of the Congress," a group that many feel no longer lives up to its moniker.