Friday, November 9, 2007

War Funding Plan Faces Uphill Fight

Josh Rogin writes:
Democrats are poised to propose a $50 billion war funding bill that has little chance of becoming law, making it likely the military will be fighting on borrowed money into next year.

The House is expected next week to take up the new partial-year “bridge fund,” which would pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for four months. Democratic leaders, caught between the demands of liberals who want tight restrictions on war funding and members who want the troops to get whatever they need quickly, have come up with a plan that is likely to satisfy neither.

Even if the House passes the bill, it would probably stall in the Senate, where similar measures have failed to draw the 60 votes needed to reach President Bush, who would probably veto it anyway.

Moreover, since the Senate cleared the regular Defense spending bill and the next continuing resolution Thursday night, Republicans and hawkish Democrats lost their two best chances to add some war funding to another legislative vehicle this year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the details of the bridge fund on Thursday. The measure would require the immediate start of troop withdrawals from Iraq, with a goal of extricating most troops by Dec. 15, 2008. The money in the bill would be limited for the missions of force protection, counterterrorism and training of the Iraqi security forces.

It also contains several Iraq policy measures that the House has tried to enact before. The bill would mandate home stays for returning troops equal to the length of their combat deployments; prohibit the deployment of troops who are not fully trained and equipped; and extend strict rules against torture found in the Army Field Manual to all government agencies and employees.

Although the final bill has not materialized, Pelosi told reporters Thursday that the Iraqi withdrawal language was similar to the language in an early version of the fiscal 2007 supplemental (HR 2206).

That language was vetoed and Congress failed to override.

When asked whether she thought the new war funding bill had a chance of being signed by Bush, or even making it to his desk, Pelosi demurred. “We are restating the differentiation between ourselves and the president of the United States,” she said.

After initially considering a vote on the plan as early as Friday, top Democrats said the House would take it up next week, perhaps on Nov. 13.

“I think we have the votes. Now, we will have a little time to get the proper drafting and vetting on the Iraq bill,” said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.

Liberals, Blue Dogs Skeptical

Initial reaction to the proposed bridge fund among Democrats was mixed.

In a private meeting Thursday afternoon with the liberal Out of Iraq and Progressive caucuses, Pelosi pledged not to cave in and provide the war funding without strings if Bush vetoes the new bridge fund.

But even with that assurance, Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., left the meeting unconvinced. She hoped that the bill would be postponed to give members a chance to study it carefully before deciding how to vote. “We are saying we want to see it. . . . I want a much bigger commitment than that.”

Members of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition were equally skeptical but for different reasons.

Gene Taylor, D-Miss., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was concerned the military would be placed under greater strain while Congress wrangled over the funding.

“My initial reaction is, gee, I wish they wouldn’t do this,” said Taylor, adding that planners and suppliers need to know where their funding is coming from.

James P. Moran, D-Va., a member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and an outspoken war critic, was more supportive of the strategy. “Let it go to the president,” he said. “If he vetoes it, then he has no funding for Iraq,”

Few Republicans are expected to support the new bridge fund. Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, attacked the proposal, saying it was “about trying to handcuff our generals and our soldiers in harm’s way in Iraq.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the chamber would take up the bridge fund next week, but didn’t feel confident it could muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a likely filibuster.

“It’s not a question of us finding enough votes to pass it. We support this,” he said, referring to Senate Democrats. “It’s up to the Republicans whether they will help with a few votes in the Senate.”

The Senate cleared the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations conference report (HR 3222 — H Rept 110-434) by voice vote Thursday night, after Ted Stevens of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Defense panel, abandoned his bid to split the bill from the next continuing resolution (CR).

Because the new CR doesn’t contain any war funding, the Pentagon will have to borrow from its regular budget to pay for war operations beginning Nov. 17.

The House voted, 400-15, to adopt the conference report. (Appropriations, p. 3)

Overall, the conference report would provide the Pentagon $459.3 billion in discretionary funding, $3.5 billion less than Bush’s request and $39.7 billion, or 9.5 percent, more than in fiscal 2007.

It also would provide $11.6 billion in emergency spending for mine-resistant vehicles to protect U.S. forces in Iraq.