Last month, 60 Members of the House of Representatives, including 51 Democrats, voted against the war supplemental for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. But this week, when the House is expected to consider the agreement of a House-Senate conference on the war funding, the supplemental could well be defeated on the floor of the House - if most of the 51 anti-war Democrats stick to their no vote - which they might, if they hear from their constituents.
The key thing that's changed is the Treasury Department's insistence that the war supplemental include a $100 billion bailout for the International Monetary Fund - a bailout for European banks facing big losses in Eastern Europe, the international version of the Wall Street bailout.
House Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner, have threatened to vote no on the war funding if the IMF money is attached. If Boehner could bring all the Republicans with him, and if all the Democrats who voted no last month voted no again, the war supplemental would fail on the floor of the House, 200-228.
But not every Democrat who voted no before will vote no now, and therein lies the drama. The House leadership didn't need those anti-war Democrats before, so in a way it was a "free vote" - 51 Democrats could vote on behalf of their anti-war constituents without running afoul of the leadership. But if Treasury insists on the IMF money, and Republicans vote no, the leadership will need 18 of those Democrats now.
Under pressure from the leadership, some of those Democrats - like the usually progressive Barney Frank, who unfortunately in this case is protecting the status quo at the IMF - will try to argue that this vote doesn't matter. But the opposite is true - this is the vote that matters, because it might actually make a difference to the outcome. If the war supplemental fails on the floor of the House, that news is going to rocket around the world. The story that will be told around the world is that there is unrest in Congress and America about the never-ending wars, and that will bring closer the day that these wars end, just as unrest in Congress helped bring about the US-Iraq agreement for a withdrawal timetable, just as the House vote against the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia helped bring that bombing to an end. Every Democrat who votes yes now in effect cancels their previous no vote - they're essentially saying, I was willing to vote no on the wars when it didn't matter, but now that it does matter, I'm voting yes.
Of course, to this should be added the question of why Democrats would vote to give $100 billion in U.S. tax dollars to the International Monetary Fund with no effective strings attached. A coalition of anti-poverty organizations - including the AFL-CIO, the anti-poverty advocacy group RESULTS, the AIDS treatment advocacy group Health GAP, and the poor country debt cancellation advocacy group Jubilee USA Network - have demanded that Congress attach conditions to the IMF funding requiring U.S. Treasury to oppose policies at the IMF that fundamentally contradict the stated purpose of the money. While Treasury is telling Democrats in Congress to vote yes because the IMF needs money to boost the global economy, actual IMF policies - in Latvia and Pakistan, most recently - are doing the opposite, forcing draconian budget cuts and high interest rates that are strangling economic activity. But in response to the demands for reform, Treasury is insisting - as usual - that Congress can have no effective role in oversight of Treasury's policies at the IMF, that any language on IMF reform attached to the funding has to be meaningless.
Treasury wants to sneak the IMF money through the war supplemental so Treasury can postpone its day of reckoning with this anti-poverty coalition. Why should Democrats in Congress take Treasury's side in this dispute?
The outcome of this drama will likely come down to a handful of votes. Folks who call Congress should call their Representative now and urge them to vote no - in opposition to the wars, in opposition to the IMF money, or both. Folks who generally don't call Congress should consider this: this is one of those rare moments of Washington chaos where your Representative who never seems to listen to you might listen to you, where your call is most likely to make a difference, because the usual party lines are confused: more Democrats than usual will be voting yes on the war funding, and far more Republicans than usual will be voting no. Republicans especially need to hear from their constituents that they oppose a $100 billion U.S. taxpayer bailout for European banks. Democrats need to hear from their constituents that they oppose the bailout, and the never-ending wars. Anti-war Democrats should be reminded that the House leadership refuses to allow Representative McGovern's amendment - requiring that the Pentagon report to Congress on an exit strategy from Afghanistan - to be considered on the supplemental.