Thursday, May 17, 2007

Senate Passes Interim Iraq War Funding Bill

Reuters reports:
The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed an interim Iraq war funding bill that promised support but gave no specific dollar figure, enabling congressional negotiators to begin work on a compromise they hope to send to President George W. Bush next week.

By voice vote, the Senate approved vague language expressing the need to support U.S. troops. The measure reflected the Senate's inability to bridge differences between Democrats and Republicans on war funding legislation that Bush would sign.

On May 10, the House of Representatives passed a bill Bush has promised to veto because it only guarantees $42.8 billion, enough new money for the war in Iraq for the next two or three months. Anti-war Democrats pushed the measure through the House with a provision that holds back an additional $52.8 billion, pending progress reports from Bush.

With Thursday's Senate vote, the two chambers can now formally begin negotiating a compromise bill in the hope of passing it next week, before a Memorial Day holiday recess.

"Democrats' commitment to bringing this war to a responsible end has never been stronger," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

Republicans have signaled their support for the war might erode by September or October unless there is progress toward ending sectarian violence and U.S. casualties. But so far they have stuck with Bush and accused Democrats of backing "surrender dates" for the war.

Bush vetoed a war-spending bill on May 1 that would have given about $100 billion to the Pentagon to continue fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September 30. But Democrats attached troop withdrawal deadlines that Bush would not accept.

White House aides also have been meeting with Senate leaders in an attempt to end the deadlock.

One possible compromise could involve providing $100 billion in new war money and adding "benchmarks" to measure progress in Iraq.

It was still unclear whether Democrats will be able to force consequences, like curtailing reconstruction aid, if Iraq's government fails to improve its country's political stability and military readiness.

While closed-door negotiations continued, Democrats kept up the pressure on Bush. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a vocal opponent of the war, said Bush "appears to see no value in anything except continuing his quixotic mission impossible." He added that the 4-year-old war was "turning the sands of Iraq blood-red."