Media uncritically report GOP charge that Senate Dems are withholding military funding

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

Reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to temporarily pull the annual Defense Department funding authorization bill from consideration after Senate Republicans blocked a vote on a Democratic amendment aimed at withdrawing troops from Iraq, a July 19 New York Times article asserted, "The pause will also allow Republicans to charge that Democrats are stalling a major Pentagon measure, including a military pay raise, to make political points." Yet the Times did not point out that the bill -- which would authorize defense spending for fiscal year 2008 -- is not set to take effect until October 1. By contrast, after reporting Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) criticism of Reid's move, a July 19 McClatchy Newspapers article noted that the bill "wouldn't take effect until fiscal 2008 begins on Oct. 1 and isn't technically needed in order to continue military funding."

In addition, a number of other media outlets uncritically quoted Republican senators making the same claim without mentioning that the FY 2008 Defense authorization bill would not take effect before October 1, and the bill's provision of a pay raise for the military would not take effect until January 2008. For example:

  • A July 19 Washington Post article uncritically quoted Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) claiming that "[w]e are abandoning the men and women in the military if we don't take this bill back up and pass it, conference with the House, and have it signed by the president of the United States, as we have for the past 45 years."
  • A July 19 Washington Times article also uncritically quoted McCain's assertion.

Additionally, USA Today reported on July 19 in an article by reporter Kathy Kiely that "Republicans accused Reid of holding hostage a bill that would provide troops a 3.5% pay raise beginning Oct. 1." In addition to simply repeating without rebutting the Republicans' accusation about delaying the bill, Kiely did not point out that the claim she attributed to Republicans about when the pay raise takes effect is false. The same article also quoted McCain asserting that "[w]e are abandoning the men and women in the military if we don't take this bill back up."

In contrast to the above newspapers, McClatchy noted the distinction between the GOP charge that Reid and the Senate Democrats are withholding funds for the U.S. military, and the reality of when the funding is to take effect:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, "What I hate the most is that because of the next election, we can't set aside our differences and focus on what we have in common: providing our troops with what they need."

The authorization bill covers myriad aspects of defense policy, from treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to equipment levels.

While it wouldn't take effect until fiscal 2008 begins on Oct. 1 and isn't technically needed in order to continue military funding, the bill contains several politically popular elements: a 3.5 percent military pay increase, more money for mine-resistant vehicles known as MRAPS and improved care and benefits for wounded veterans.

The blog ThinkProgress also noted McCain's claim and a similar assertion from Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and pointed out that the defense bill is not set to take effect until October 1 and that "[f]unding for the troops -- including emergency appropriations -- has already been earmarked through September 30th, 2007."

From the July 19 New York Times article:

Republicans accused Democrats of wasting time on a fruitless talkathon. "Nothing we have done for the last 24 hours will have changed any fact on the ground in Iraq or made the outcome of the war any more or less important for the security of this country," said Senator John McCain of Arizona, senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Democrats hope the intervening weeks and public unrest with the war will cause more Republicans to break with the president. Almost immediately, activist groups announced plans to conduct antiwar events in the states of key Republican senators. The pause will also allow Republicans to charge that Democrats are stalling a major Pentagon measure, including a military pay raise, to make political points.

In the House, Democrats said Wednesday that they were still considering pressing Iraq-related votes before the August recess.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 6 in 10 Americans say Congress should allow financing for the war in Iraq, but only on the condition that the United States sets a timetable for the withdrawal of troops. Still, 28 percent say Congress should allow all financing for the war without conditions. Just 8 percent of those polled said Congress should block all money for the war.

From the July 19 Washington Post article:

The war proposals are amendments to the annual defense authorization bill, which includes a military pay raise and Iraq equipment upgrades. Reid's decision halted progress on that legislation, promoting criticism from Republicans.

"We are abandoning the men and women in the military if we don't take this bill back up and pass it, conference with the House, and have it signed by the president of the United States, as we have for the past 45 years," said Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

But Reid's decision pleased antiwar groups, which have pressed Democrats to bring the war to a close. "I think Senator Reid took an important step toward confronting Republican obstructionism and ending the war," said Tom Matzzie, a strategist for MoveOn.org.

From the July 19 USA Today article:

In protest, Reid yanked a bill authorizing Pentagon programs for the next fiscal year from the Senate floor and predicted his side would pick up more votes by waiting. "Time and the American people are on our side," said Reid, D-Nev.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans a series of Iraq votes before the end of the month. The House of Representatives has gone on record six times this year calling for a change in Iraq strategy. "We will repeat that judgment legislatively as often as necessary," Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

Republicans accused Reid of holding hostage a bill that would provide troops a 3.5% pay raise beginning Oct. 1. "We are abandoning the men and women in the military if we don't take this bill back up," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Reid's decision to shelve the bill, at least temporarily, came after an unusual around-the-clock session that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., derided as "gags, giggles and gimmicks." Democrats defended the all-nighter as an effort to dramatize their exasperation with GOP procedural maneuvers. "They blocked the will of the people," Reid said.

From the July 19 Washington Times article:

Shortly after yesterday's vote, Mr. Reid pulled the defense authorization bill from the floor in an attempt to secure more Republican support for the Levin-Reed amendment. He declined to say when he would reintroduce the bill, a move that angered Republican leaders.

"We are abandoning the men and women in the military if we don't take this bill back up and pass it," Mr. McCain said.

Mr. Reid's decision to set-aside the bill also freezes debate on other amendments intended to change the president's Iraq strategy, including a measure proposed by two Republican senators that calls on Mr. Bush to create a new plan for U.S. troops in Iraq by mid-October.

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