Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Democrats Plan to Withhold Funds, Force Withdrawal Debate; Bill Would Partially Fund Iraq War, Pressure Republicans to Abandon Bush Strategy

ABC News
Democrats Plan to Withhold Funds, Force Withdrawal Debate
Bill Would Partially Fund Iraq War, Pressure Republicans to Abandon Bush Strategy

May 8, 2007 —

Later this week House Democratic leaders will introduce a new bill to fund the war in Iraq, a complicated bill -- or, bills, rather -- to match the complicated task Democratic leaders have in front of them.

They are attempting to end the war in Iraq through congressional pressure, without directly cutting off funding for the troops while simultaneously keeping a politically diverse caucus as united as possible.

Democrats Plan to Withhold Funds, Force Withdrawal Debate

"We're the Congress of the United States," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday after meeting with the Democratic caucus. "We're many members here. So when we're talking with the White House about something, they're speaking for one person, we're speaking for hundreds of people. We have to bring members (of Congress) together around a position that we can then discuss with the White House on that. And hopefully that will happen this week."

On Thursday, the House will vote on $95.5 billion in funding for the war, "with a significant portion of it fenced," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., explained.

Three months worth of funding for the war in Iraq -- approximately $30 billion, Hoyer said, plus $12 billion in ancillary spending -- would be available for the military immediately.

On July 13, the bill would require President Bush to report on the progress of various benchmarks to be met by the Iraqi government. Then in late July, Congress would vote on whether or not to unfence the remaining war appropriations, approximately $53 billion.

"This gives Congress the opportunity in mid-July to make an assessment as to what progress is being made," Hoyer said.

A senior Democratic aide said that the remaining $53 billion would unquestionably be given to the U.S. troops, but the July vote would allow Democrats continued input into how the war is being waged, including whether or not the money should be spent on withdrawing U.S. troops altogether.

House Democratic leaders are promising the anti-war voices among them -- from the House Progressive Caucus and House Out of Iraq Caucus -- the up-or-down vote on the war that they want.

Thus, the House will vote in July on whether the "fenced-off" $53 billion should be spent on redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Assuming that does not pass, members of Congress will then get to vote on whether or not to "unfence" the $53 billion for the military.

Republicans Criticize 'Slow-Bleed Strategy'

House Republicans derided the proposal, which is being drafted by Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

"This is the fourth iteration of the Democrats slow-bleed strategy," said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., chair of the House Republican Caucus. "It is unconscionable to think that they want to fund a war 60 days at a time."

The bill actually funds the war effort for 90 days but strong criticism remains.

White House spokesman Tony Snow called the proposal "bad management," later adding, "We think it is appropriate to be able to give commanders what they are going to need, and also forces in the field, so that you can make long-term decisions in trying to build the mission."

A Democratic congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the Democratic caucus, explained the political strategy of the vote to ABC News as a sort of war of attrition. He said, "The idea is to keep kicking the can down the road" before forcing Democrats to vote on whether to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible.

"Until then," the congressman continued, "the idea to keep Republicans voting again and again and again to keep this folly of a war going. All the while the president keeps getting less popular, the war keeps getting less and less popular, and Republican congressmen keep getting closer to their looming re-election campaigns. Democrats think it's a winning strategy, and I'm not sure Republicans would disagree."

Keeping Up the Pressure

Even after the July vote, Democrats see an opportunity to continue the pressure on the White House and their Republican colleagues.

House Democrats hope to pass all the appropriations bills in June with the exception of the Department of Defense Appropriations bill. That bill will serve as the next host of Democratic-led debates about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Democrats see Republicans as weakening in their stalwart support for the war. They point to comments by House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, indicating that when it comes to the "surge" strategy in Iraq, "by the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B?"

They also point to the fact that on the last Iraq bill, which contained a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., voted "present" instead of standing by the president.

Last month, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., told The New York Times that if clear progress has not been made in Iraq by autumn, "a heck of a lot of us will start peeling away" from supporting the war.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., explained on Tuesday that when Republicans point to the fall as the time to assess progress, that's because the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, "is going to report back in September. That will be a critical moment to see how the plan is working."

Spending Rises, Senate Demurs

Also included in this Thursday House funding package would be funding for children's health insurance, health care for veterans and current U.S. troops, recovery from Hurricane Katrina and an increase in the minimum wage.

On Friday, the House will vote for the billions in spending for various programs that Republicans previously derided as "pork" -- agricultural relief funding and other projects for specific regions of the country.

There is no discussion in the Senate of a similar bill to the bifurcated (or tri-furcated, rather) approach taken in the House. Senate Democrats need 60 votes to bring any bill to the floor, so they need to work more closely with their GOP counterparts.

"I think I'm safe in saying there is minimal to no enthusiasm among Republican senators for that proposal," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"We either need to vote for funding for the troops or not. A four-month period is a pretty short period anyway, in any event. To further divide that in half and bring the uncertainty that will be the result of that to the whole funding process would be highly confusing and disruptive," the senator concluded.

On Wednesday, McConnell will host Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten to discuss the Senate version of the Iraq funding bill.

"The Senate may have a different approach," acknowledged Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chair of the House Democratic Caucus. "And then we'll go to conference to deal with it. But the notion that you should know is that there will constantly be a relationship between the resources and a new policy."

Dean Norland contributed to this report.