Obey berates woman over war funding, later apologizes

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) berated a woman who approached him in a Congressional corridor, claiming that “idiot liberals” don’t understand the war supplemental spending bill process. 
 
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The altercation was videotaped and posted on www.youtube.com .
 
“We’re trying to use the supplemental to end the war,” Obey said. “You can’t end the war if you’re going against the supplemental. It’s time these idiot liberals understood that.”
 
David Swanson, a liberal blogger with AfterDowningStreet.org, posted a YouTube video of the encounter on www.afterdowningstreet.org/node/19392 and sent the link to reporters Thursday night.
 
The unidentified woman told Obey she was the mother of a Marine who had been deployed to Iraq who was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and wasn’t receiving adequate treatment from military hospitals. She then asked why Obey was not cutting off funding for the war.
 
Obey responded that the Washington Post has been running numerous stories on the inadequacies of military hospitals and that Congress is holding hearings on the topic, adding that the supplemental spending bill includes extra money for military healthcare.
 
A few moments later he grew angry and began attacking liberal groups for failing to understand how the supplemental bill, of which he is a sponsor, would affect the war.
 
“The liberal groups are jumping around without knowing what the hell is in the bill,” he bellowed. “You don’t have to cut off funds for an activity that doesn’t exist.”
 
“The language we have in the resolution ends the authority for the war,” he added. “It makes it illegal to proceed with the war. You don’t have to de-fund something if the war doesn’t exist.”
 
It is unclear if Obey was aware he was being videotaped. Most of the video is shot from waist level. House rules for the media stipulate that members of Congress must approve when they are being videotaped. But this footage was apparently not shot by a member of the media.

Obey stressed the need for liberal groups to understand that cutting off military funding means de-funding important military programs, such as hospitals for veterans.
 
“I’m not going to deny body armor. I’m not going to deny funding for veterans’ hospitals and for defense hospitals so you can help people that have health problems. That’s what you do if you go against that bill,” he added.
 
Asked about passing a resolution to end the war, Obey screamed that they did not have the votes.
 
“We don’t have the votes to pass [a resolution],” he yelled. “We couldn’t even get the votes to pass a non-binding resolution one week ago. How the hell do you think we’re going to get the votes to cut off the war?”
 
“You cut off the funding,” an onlooker replied.
 
“How, if you don’t have the votes?” Obey roared in response. “That bill ends the war! If that isn’t good enough for you, you’re smoking something illegal. You’ve got your facts screwed up.”
 
“We can’t get the votes! Do you see a magic wand in my pocket?” he continued, opening his suit jacket as if to display an empty pocket. “We don’t have the votes for it. We do have the votes if you guys quit screwing it up. We do have the votes to end the legal authority for the war, that’s the same as de-funding it.”
 
When The Hill contacted him Friday about the videotaped encounter, Obey immediately apologized for getting angry with the woman, saying that his immense frustration about “this stupid war” boiled over.
 
“Once in a while that frustration boils over, I wish it hadn’t but you cannot continue conversations forever,” he said.
 
He also continued to skewer “liberal groups” for failing to inform the members and the public that the war supplemental spending bill contains language aimed at ending the war.
 
“Let me be frank: That kind of encounter is the kind of frustration this stupid war is causing across the board,” he said in an interview with The Hill. “I’m trying to figure out how to get the votes [for a spending bill] that is going to try to end our participation in that Iraq war.”
 
When the woman asked him whether he was going to vote for the supplemental, that further aggravated him because, as the lead sponsor, of course he was. Tensions had already been riding high, he said, because this week protesters had been “sitting in” his district office and have refused to leave at the end of the business day and were arrested.
 
“What so frustrated me about the encounter is that it became apparent that she had no idea that the bill she was being asked to tell me to vote against would set a deadline for our getting out of Iraq,” he said.
 
“So many of these liberal groups don’t adequately inform their members. They don’t have the full story about what we’re trying to do and they wind up not being able to distinguish their friend from their enemy. These people won’t take yes for an answer.”
 
He said he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.) have been spending “night and day” trying to figure out a way of the war in Iraq. Instead of trying to help them in the task, the members of liberal groups are viewing them as the enemy rather than their friends, Obey said.
 
“When you have misinformation or lack of information put into their head’s, it’s a disservice to them and to me,” Obey said. “I respect their views. But I would hope they would also respect mine and others on the Hill who are working so hard to find a way out of this.”
 
Obey’s proposed supplemental bill, entitled the “U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health and Iraq Accountability Act,” expands funding for veterans’ health care and hospitals and stipulates that the Bush administration must meet standards of troop readiness before deployment to Iraq. It also states that the Iraqi government must meet Bush’s benchmarks for reform in order for our troops to remain in the region. The legislation sets a deadline for complete withdrawal from Iraq by Sept. 8, 2008, but also states that troops would be withdrawn earlier if Iraqi government fails to satisfy Bush’s benchmarks.

Obey went on to stress his opposition to the war, that he voted against it from the very beginning and that he was the first member of Congress to call for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation. He said the supplemental bill provides greater resources to the very veterans the woman was expressing concern about.
 
“If the president wants this funding, he has to accept a timeline for an orderly ending of this war,” he said.
 
“I hate this war,” he continued “It’s the worst foreign policy disaster in my life time. It’s extremely frustrating when you see groups that cannot be united because they don’t agree with each other on the timeline or they don’t agree 100 percent.”
 
At the end of the interview Obey again said he was sorry about his outburst then cut off questions, saying he needed to get to a hearing.
 
“I’m sorry that the frustration happened to erupt in that hall,” he said. “I wish it hadn’t. If these groups would inform people before they hit the Hill…we might have a better chance to have the votes to end this thing.”

The video can be viewed here.