Sen. Jeff Merkley Reinvents History of Partisan Support for Iraq/Afghan Wars

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) lies and says Republicans are to blame for the Afghan and Iraq war costs, when in reality both parties authorized both conflicts
  • Sen. Merkley complains about the cost of the wars, without providing the necessary context to the spending which shows their relatively small portion of the budget

OUR RATING: #FakeNews. This is what you’d expect on CNN playing to an empty airport.

Indicted Outlet: Sen. Jeff Merkley | Forbes | Link | Archive | May 20, 2023

In the midst of yet another budget conflict between fiscal conservatives and fiscal liberals in both parties, there’s a threat of another ‘government shutdown’ which threatens some Yuppie’s plans to do yoga at Yosemite.

The partisan divide can often lead to passions and threats to use vague and ambiguous political powers against the other. In so doing the arguments they use against the other are often disingenuous and dishonest, and recently Sen. Merkley from Oregon reinvented the history of the 2000’s to make the Afghan and Iraq wars a partisan affair when, in reality, they were quite bipartisan.

Major Violations:

  • Lying
  • Unbalanced
  • Misrepresentation

Let’s start by reviewing the transcript of what Senator Merkley said:

Thank you Bernie, and Ed, and team. Let’s pull back the curtain on the Republican strategy to make the rich richer and the powerful, more powerful. They say this is about controlling the deficit. But let’s get the history. We had 100% support in the Senate for the Deficit Control Act, the Budget Control and Impoundment act of 1974, 22 years it was there with support for controlling deficits, and Republicans used a nuclear option to blow that up. And say instead, they could use it to end that filibuster free pathway to increase deficits through massive tax cuts for the rich and powerful.

The Republicans blew it up.

The Republicans proceeded not just to blow up that process, but pass those tax cuts under Bush and under Trump. And those are the major causes of the national deficit, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq added to that with Republican support. So here we are with their strategy to say first, we run up the deficit. And then we use the deficit to say we need to cut programs for ordinary Americans. Not to have fair taxation for the rich and powerful, no, to cut the programs for ordinary Americans that my colleagues have outlined so well. So this is a hostage taking.

And it is unacceptable to have the president in a position where Kevin McCarthy says you either savage programs for ordinary Americans and flood the country with fossil fuels, or I’m going to run the economy off the cliff and when it runs off the cliff that could be 8 million jobs crossed… drop in the stock market increase in interest rates.

The President has a mechanism to push back. He has the 14th. Amendment, Bill Clinton said he would use the 14th amendment. constitutional scholars have said that this is there as a powerful tool for the President. It is unacceptable to have a situation in which the American people are threatened in this process. And not only that, but this strategy will be used by Republicans time and time and time again to attack programs for ordinary families and ask at the same time for even more tax cuts for the rich and powerful.

So Mr. President, we have your back. We know that this pathway has not been traveled before and every president hesitates to go down a new pathway that has to be worked out. We have your back. We stand with you against this type of unacceptable hostage taking, thinking.

I don’t know if Sen. Merkley is right about the 14th amendment, and I’m not about to start parsing through the details of the federal budget.

But there are existing claims about the authorization of war, and which party authorized wars, that are worth examining from Sen. Merkley’s statements.

Let’s focus on this part of the transcript:

“The Republicans proceeded not just to blow up that process, but pass those tax cuts under Bush and under Trump. And those are the major causes of the national deficit, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq added to that with Republican support.”

So Sen. Merkley is blaming the budget deficits on Republicans, and specifically, significantly, Republican support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is all in the context of questions about a pending budget showdown where an inability to come to consensus on spending might cause a ‘shutdown’ of the government. The government has had multiple ‘shutdowns’ over the past few decades, usually as a result of an impasse between Republican and Democrat budget negotiators.

So Sen. Merkley is blaming Republicans for the showdown, and pointing to the President’s potential use of the 14th Amendment to circumvent Congress’ budget authority. Sen. Merkley is then blaming the budget problems on Republican tax cuts and expense of the Iraq and Afghan wars.

The authorization for both Iraq and Afghanistan were different votes in Congress, split between the two chambers of the House and Senate.

For Iraq, the vote was on Oct. 10th, 2002 in the House, and Oct. 11th, 2002 in the Senate.[1]

In the House, the Iraq Resolution authorized the President by a vote of 296-133, with most of the ‘Nay’ votes (126) coming from Democrats but a significant number of Democrats (81) voted “Aye.” So among Democrats, the vote was 81 in favor and 126 opposed, a margin of 61-39% against. All but 6 Republicans voted for it.

In the Senate, 48 Republicans voted “Aye” and 1 voted “Nay.” But among Democrats, 58% of Democrat Senators voted “Aye” and only 42% voted “Nay.” The Iraq resolution would not have passed without Democrat support. Famous Democrat Senators including the then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), then-Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), then-Senator John Kerry (D-MA), then-Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and current Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) all voted “Aye” to authorize the Iraq War.

Left-wing outside groups estimate the cost of the Iraq War to be $2 trillion over the past 21 years, [6] working out to roughly $95 billion per year.

For Afghanistan, the vote was on September 18, 2001, just one week after the deadly September 11th attacks. [2]

In the House, the vote on Sept. 14th was 420-1, with the sole “Nay” vote coming from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).

In the Senate, the vote on Sept. 14th was unanimous, 98-0. The two absent votes were both Republicans, Jesse Helms (R-NC), and Larry Craig (R-ID). In the 107th Congress, the Senate was evenly split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, [3] meaning that the Afghanistan Resolution actually passed with more Democrat votes than Republican.

Outside groups estimate the 21 year cost of the Afghanistan War at 2.12 trillion dollars. [4] That works out to roughly $100 billion per year. By comparison, in Fiscal Year 2023, the Defense Department budget is $1.8 trillion. [5]

So the amortized cost of both conflicts has resulted in a rough yearly cost of $195 billion per year. By contrast, the federal budget in 2023 is roughly $1.7 trillion. [7]

It’s also worth noting that the budgets for these conflicts are passed through the legislature. So the 20 year cost of the conflicts should be borne not just by the Executive, but also the Legislature. The House and Senate have had split control over the past two decades, with each chamber passing from party to party several times during this period. No one party had a dominance over the federal budget. The chart below visually displays those changes of power.[13][14]

The changing power over the federal budget again indicates that responsibility for the past two decades of war and occupation funding rests with both parties.

Now one could argue here that it was a Republican administration that pushed both resolutions, and they would be right that President Bush was a Republican. But the full context of Sen. Merkley’s remarks were complaining to fellow legislators about a potential Congressional showdown. If Sen. Merkley were just blaming George Bush, he could have named him and clarified his remarks.

Instead, Sen. Merkley was blaming Republicans for the fiscal deficits and using the wars as a scapegoat. The Afghan and Iraq wars were indeed expensive but in the context of the current budget deficits and debate, they aren’t relevant and are otherwise small in the context of the amounts being debated.

Again as a matter of context, $45 billion in aid has been sent to the Ukraine as part of the losing strategy against the year-long Russian invasion, [8] a third of the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars combined. Military spending is a common source of wasteful spending, but is by no means the only place in the federal budget to find such spending that rarely serves the citizens of America.

Often ‘earmarks’ are used to fund wasteful government spending. The group Citizens Against Government Waste chronicles this ongoing waste, and noted at least two notable instances in 2022 [10] where Sen. Merkley requested and advanced wasteful ‘earmarks’ to benefit his home state of Oregon.

But voters are sometimes split on the question of earmarks – some people see it as a good thing that their districts get financial support and projects. But one thing that the public is largely against is foreign aid.[11] Support for aid to Ukraine is strong at 60%, but has been steadily declining among all demographic groups. [12]

$40 billion of the Ukraine aid was voted on in Roll Call 191 on May 19, 2022. Sen. Merkley voted for it. [9]

Sen. Merkley is lying about support for the Afghan war, which was near-unanimous between the two parties. Sen. Merkley is substantially misrepresenting support for the Iraq War in 2002, which was largely bipartisan with some Democrat holdouts in the House. He’s also misrepresenting the size and scope of the war debt compared to the overall size of the budget.

OUR RATING: #FakeNews. This is what you’d expect on CNN playing to an empty airport.

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