WASHINGTON – The same group of Maryland anti-war protesters who staged two February sit-ins in Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s office, expanded their efforts to the House Thursday to persuade Rep. Chris Van Hollen to vote against additional funding for the Iraq war.
“While Congress refuses to set a timetable for troop withdrawal, more Americans are sent to die,” said protester Deborah Vollmer, who challenged Van Hollen, D-Kensington, in the 2006 election.
Vollmer, along with about a dozen other protesters, gathered in Van Hollen’s tiny Capitol Hill office Thursday afternoon to read the names of deceased Maryland soldiers and Iraqi citizens, and tape their pictures to the wall.
Van Hollen’s communications officer said the group did not contact the office to schedule an appointment and due to previously scheduled meetings, the congressman could not be there.
However, in a telephone interview after the protest peacefully ended, Van Hollen said that he “welcomed them to the office and looked forward to hearing their viewpoint.”
The same group visited Mikulski’s Capitol Hill office twice last month, the last of which resulted in the arrest of four protesters after they failed to leave at the 6 p.m. closing time.
The anti-war group argues that while both representatives say they oppose the war, they continue to vote to fund it. The 2007 emergency supplemental budget beginning the appropriations process reportedly contains billions in additional funding for the Iraq war effort.
Van Hollen did not vote on going to war because he was then in the Maryland State House. Mikulski voted against it, but has maintained that she will not do anything that will cut funding for the troops in combat zones.
“Her stance is that she will not abandon the soldiers on the field or once they come home,” said Melissa Schwartz, Mikulski’s communications director.
Van Hollen said he also supports funds that take care of the troops.
“I strongly support the funds in there for Walter Reed and for ensuring both the veterans and our military get the health care that they need and are treated with dignity and respect.”
A supplemental funding bill is used when some unforeseen need comes up such as a natural disaster, said James Horney, director of Federal Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“With Iraq, Bush knew we were going to need more money, he just wasn’t sure how much,” Horney said.
In 2006, the supplemental bill called for $94.5 billion to cover costs of the war. However, costs that had nothing to do with defense spending, such as Hurricane Katrina, were also included.
While the details of the current supplemental funding bill are not known, the possibility of funding for operations other than defense being included in the bill keeps Mikulski’s vote open.
For the protesters though, the issue is more black and white.
“Even if other things do come attached (to the bill) we want them to vote against it no matter what,” said former senatorial candidate and protester Kevin Zeese.
The supplemental budget is in the House Appropriations Committee and will be presented to Congress sometime this week or next, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, told reporters Tuesday.
One possible amendment to the bill that aligns with the protesters’ views is the Lee Amendment, presented by Rep. Barbara Lee, R-Calif. It funnels the supplemental funding into a provision to withdraw the troops.
“We’re in the process of talking with the members of the Democratic caucus,” Van Hollen said, adding that he hopes to “use the appropriations process to change direction in Iraq.”
The protesters, however, are looking for answers more along the lines of those from Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville.
In a newsletter released from Wynn’s office in response to the President’s Fiscal Year 2008 Budget, the congressman said he will oppose supplemental appropriations funding for the war in Iraq because he believes it is time to bring the troops home.
For protester Jean Athey, who plans to bring Wynn flowers the next time she’s on the Hill, that’s exactly what she wants to hear from all her representatives.
“The Democrats are looking to add on all sorts of Christmas decorations,” to the supplemental bill, she said. “That’s fine and good, but again . . . The main thing is that continuing this occupation is horrible, people are dying and we need to stop that.”