As Congress gears up for a new year, Executive Director Jon Rainwater and I were on Capitol Hill last week to talk with key congressional staff and lay out our priorities for 2008. With a presidential election looming and a shorter legislative calendar than last year, we will have to keep the pressure on to see some key foreign policy issues addressed. Throughout the day, we met with representatives for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA).
There has been a lot of speculation lately about how Congress will approach the war in Iraq this year, with many people believing Congress will back off of demands for a timeline because of the inability to pass one in both the House and Senate in 2007. For the most part, congressional staff didn’t have a clear idea, and there was no consensus on whether or not it is useful to continue to vote when it is unlikely to result in a change in policy. In all the offices, we made it clear that while we support efforts to address other issues, such as bilateral agreements with the Iraqi government and regulating military contractors, we also want both the House and the Senate to continue voting on timeline bills. There is value in continuing to keep the pressure on and building momentum toward a complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, and the 2008 election offers no guarantee of an immediate policy shift. We encouraged members to support a timeline and to oppose any funding that does not include a timeline for withdrawal, and also encouraged cosponsorship of bills that would require congressional oversight of agreements between the US and Iraqi governments (H.R. 4959/S. 2426).
On the nuclear weapons front, it was great to have a solid victory to build on in the defeat of the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. In the morning, we were able to drop in for an awards presentation for Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN), Chair of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. In addition to Rep. Dave Hobson (R-OH), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), he was honored by the peace and security community for his instrumental role in cutting the funding for the RRW. We will know when the president offers his 2009 budget request on February 4th whether he will try to resurrect the RRW program.
To help in our goal to have the US take a leadership role on nuclear nonproliferation in the international community, we also talked about the proposed civilian nuclear technology deal between the US and India. We encouraged representatives to cosponsor Howard Berman’s H. Res. 711, calling for greater restrictions on the deal, including negating the agreement if India tests a nuclear weapon. The deal passed Congress overwhelmingly in 2006, but there are several steps before its final passage, and we want to take advantage of opportunities to build greater congressional opposition.
Building on the opportunity provided by the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, we also encouraged members of Congress to use their access to the media to articulate a vision of positive diplomacy with Iran, what it would look like and why it is the only viable option for diffusing tensions with Iran.
We followed up our day of lobbying with two days of meetings to collaborate and plan with our colleagues in the peace and security community. Through panels and working groups covering our top priority issues for 2008, we got valuable information about the legislative landscape and a shared direction for pressuring Congress on Iraq, Iran and nuclear weapons.
This is only the beginning of our ongoing effort to coordinate our grassroots, media, coalition building and lobbying efforts to build on our successes and take more important steps toward our goals to stopping new nuclear weapons, ending the war in Iraq and promoting diplomacy with Iran.
Representatives from peace and security organizations, including Jon Rainwater and Rebecca Griffin from Peace Action West, with Rep. Peter Visclosky.