Democrats weigh post-veto Iraq options
Democrats weigh post-veto Iraq options
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer 8 minutes
WASHINGTON - Democrats are considering their next step
after President Bush's inevitable veto of their war
spending proposal, including a possible short-term
funding bill that would force Congress to revisit the
issue this summer.
Another alternative is providing the Pentagon the
money it needs for the war but insisting that the
Iraqi government live up to certain political
promises. Or, the congressional Democrats could send
Bush what he wants for now and set their sights on
2008 spending legislation.
The options are being weighed as Bush and Congress
head toward a showdown this week on his Iraq policy.
House and Senate appropriations meet Monday to
negotiate a final bill that, if approved by both
chambers, could reach the president's desk as early as
the end of the week.
Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the Iraq war,
is expected to brief lawmakers behind closed doors as
they cast their final vote.
The legislation is expected to fund the Iraq war but
call for combat troops to leave, probably by March 31,
2008. Bush has promised to reject it and Republicans
say they will back him, leaving Democrats short of the
two-thirds majority support needed to override the
Setting an end date to the war before it's won "would
be a death blow to forces of moderation throughout the
Middle East," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (news, bio,
voting record), R-S.C.
Democratic leaders have been reluctant to discuss
their next step, focusing instead on their ability to
send Bush legislation rebuking his Iraq policy. But
other lawmakers say there is no denying that Democrats
do not have the two-thirds majority needed to override
Bush's veto. And soon enough, everyone will be asking
what happens next.
Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa.,
who chairs the House panel that oversees military
funding, said he wants a bill that would fund the war
for just two or three months. Before that second bill
would expire in summer, Democrats would try again to
pass legislation calling for an end to combat.
Bush has said the military needs more than $90 billion
through September, most of which would finance combat
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Murtha's proposal would give Democrats time to try to
rally support among Republicans growing increasingly
frustrated with the war who have so far been reluctant
to tie the hands of their GOP president.
The tact also would attract party liberals in the
House who don't want to fund the war at all.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (news, bio, voting record) said she
likes the idea of a limited funding bill because it
keeps open the possibility that Congress will cut off
money for the war this summer.
"Look at it every single day," Woolsey, D-Calif., said
of the violence in Iraq. "I hope it's not worse, but
it will be. . . . In two months, it might be that
there should be no more money" for the war.
But that impression is precisely why such a plan would
be difficult to pass in the House and likely sink in
the Senate, where more conservative Democrats say they
prefer other means to twist the president's arm.
Cutting off funding for the war is the "wrong message
to our troops" and would fail, said Sen. Carl Levin
(news, bio, voting record), chairman of the Armed
Services Committee. Then "the defeat of an effort to
cut funding would be used by the president as evidence
of support for his policy," he added.
Accordingly, Levin said he would support legislation
that would fund the war through September but insist
the Iraqi government live up to its political
Last fall, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
pledged to make laws establishing provincial
elections, regulate distribution of the country's oil
wealth and reverse measures that have excluded many
Sunnis from jobs and government positions because of
Baath party membership.
Levin, D-Mich., said that should Bush veto the war
spending bill, Democrats could pass legislation that
would drop the timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal but
require the Iraqis meet certain benchmarks. He
declined to provide further specifics.
In order to attract GOP support and force Bush to sign
the bill, Democrats would have to craft language that
gives the president some flexibility. At the same
time, Democratic leaders will have to persuade their
own party members that the bill still challenges
Bush's Iraq policy.
"The greater clarity of the consequences for the
failure to meet the benchmarks, the greater pressure
on Iraqi leaders," Levin said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino dismissed Murtha's
suggestion of a short-term funding bill and said
Democrats should focus instead on providing troops
what they need.
"Since there's only five months left in this
supplemental, having this same debate in another
month, given their track record on producing
legislation, doesn't seem prudent," Perino said.
Rep. James Moran (news, bio, voting record), a member
of defense appropriations panel, said Democrats might
not have much of a choice in responding to Bush's veto
other than to consider the short-term funding bill.
"We don't want to throw in the towel," said Moran,
D-Va. "The problem is (Bush) is willing to play
chicken with funding the troops and we aren't. We just
aren't going to take a chance (the Pentagon) will run
out of funding for the troops."