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The stench in the trench

Suddenly, the GOP was "against the troops"

Now that the Senate Democrats have reportedly secured the requisite 60 votes to foil a GOP filibuster and pass health care reform, the Republicans seem poised to fail in their stalwart attempt to stand athwart history and deny Americans the fundamental rights that are available in every other advanced western democracy. Surely there must be something dramatic that the Republicans can still do - set fire to their Senate desks? call in a bomb scare? hire Joe the Plumber to flood the toilets? - because it's clear at this point that the parliamentary options are dwindling fast.

One such Republican tactic failed badly in the wee hours last Friday morning; the episode is worth recounting, if only to demonstrate the depths to which desperate politicians will sometimes sink. Be forewarned that the hypocrisy detailed here may be enough to make you retch, because there was quite a stench in the Republican trench.

A bit of background is first required. As we all know, Republicans have long considered themselves to be the true friends of our fighting men and women, whereas they often paint Democrats as being "against the troops." This has been a constant refrain for much of the past decade, especially when Democrats have dared to question war strategy.

For instance, Roy Blunt, a Missouri congressman, charged in 2005 that the "Democrats undermine our troops...from the security of their Washington, D.C. offices." Tom Cole, an Oklahoma congressman and high-ranking GOP official, said in 2005 that sending troops to battle while refusing to fund them was an "immoral thing to do." Media ally Sean Hannity complained in 2006 that Democrats have "undermined the troops almost every step of the way." A 2008 McCain campaign ad charged that "congressional liberals voted repeatedly to cut off funding to our active troops," thereby "increasing the risk on their lives."

Yet early last Friday morning, the Republicans tried to block, via filibuster, the Senate's passage of the annual budget bill that funds the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You read that right. The Senate Republicans attempted to obstruct the crucial Pentagon measure that is designed (in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates) to "ensure continuity of funding for our troops in combat," and to purchase, among many other things, 1400 new mine-resistant vehicles suited for the rugged Afghanistan terrain.

In fact, Gates (who held the same job under George W. Bush) was so incensed by the Republicans' obstructionist behavior that he sent a stinging letter to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell: "It is inconceivable to me that such a situation would be permitted to occur with U.S forces actively deployed in combat." Gates just as easily could have quoted Republican Tom Cole's '05 assertion that any refusal to fund combat troops shall be deemed "immoral."

But why were Senate Republicans behaving as if they were "against the troops?" Because they figured that if they could indefinitely stall the Pentagon money bill with a filibuster, that would clog up the legislative pipeline, and if they clogged the pipeline, the Senate would have to adjourn for the holidays without wrapping up action on health care reform.

In other words, the Republicans weren't really "against the troops." Rather, their posture was far more cynical. They were merely trying to use the troops as pawns on their political chessboard. They didn't oppose funding the troops, per se. They just figured that if they succeeded in blocking the war money, they could block health care reform for a while longer, because, after all, as Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback said Thursday night, "I don't want health care."

The move failed, by the way. All 60 Democrats held firm to thwart the filibuster, and they were joined in that vote by three Republicans (the ladies from Maine, plus Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas). So the troops in active combat will get their money, the wars will be funded, and health care reform will move to the Senate floor.

So let us review: Senate Republicans tried to block funding for our fighting men and women (a stance they have long condemned as weak or treasonous)...and they took this action in order to stall a reform bill that will vastly expand the availability of health insurance and bar the insurance companies from screwing sick people.

That was quite a two-fer. Will they be able to top it? Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn is urging Americans to "pray" for a mishap, something that will stop a Democratic senator from showing up, but I'm going out on a limb to question his assumption that God is a partisan Republican.