New York Times
May 8, 2007
By Carl Hulse
WASHINGTON, May 7 — House Democrats may push ahead this week with a new war spending bill that would provide money for combat operations through midsummer, with the rest of the funds sought by President Bush withheld until commanders in Iraq provide a report on conditions there.
Senior Democratic officials say the proposal, which is still being put together and could reach a floor vote by the week’s end, is an attempt to provide the Pentagon with the money it needs while keeping pressure on Mr. Bush over his conduct of the war.
The House leadership had made no final decision, but aides said Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, was leaning toward the approach, which was developed by Representatives David Obey of Wisconsin and John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, two senior Democrats on the Appropriations Committee.
Congressional officials said that so far, the proposal had not met serious opposition from the party’s antiwar wing or from more moderate Democrats anxious about being accused of not financing the military.
It does not include the timeline for withdrawal that drew Mr. Bush’s veto of the initial $124 billion bill, but it would require a second vote by Congress to release the bulk of the money.
In the Senate, where lawmakers and senior Democratic aides had earlier dismissed the concept, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, softened his tone. “It is something that Senator Reid intends to take a look at,” said the spokesman, Jim Manley.
Even if the Senate balks, aides said the House initiative was a way to get moving on legislation that the leadership hopes to have signed by Mr. Bush before Memorial Day. Democrats also said they believed that it would be difficult for Mr. Bush to explain his opposition, because he would be getting the money he sought over the short term.
The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, was not enthusiastic, saying a short-term bill “provides a kind of uncertainty that really is not helpful to commanders.” But he did not reject the idea, saying, “I’m not going to respond in detail to every trial balloon, because we tend to get a lot.”
Few elements of the plan were made public, since it was still being explained privately to lawmakers.
Aides and other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal was still being vetted, said it would provide about $40 billion of the $95 billion sought by the administration. The proposal would require Mr. Bush to report to Congress in July on events in Iraq.
Congress would then vote a second time and could presumably put new conditions on the remaining money if lawmakers were not satisfied. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, is scheduled to report about the same time. The Wall Street Journal first disclosed new details of the plan on Monday.
Lawmakers were hesitant to pass judgment on the approach, saying they were not familiar with it. But Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, said he would be reluctant to support it unless it attracted enough bipartisan support to offset criticism that it was shortchanging American troops.
He and others said they would prefer that negotiations between the White House and Congress focus on reaching agreement on a measure that would pay for the war through Sept. 30, with the legislation including a set of benchmarks by which to measure the Iraqi government’s progress. Talks between lawmakers and senior White House officials were tentatively set to resume Wednesday.
While Democrats were exploring their options, Republicans were putting new emphasis on the need for the White House and Iraqi leaders to begin showing some results by September. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, suggested Sunday that autumn would be the time when the Republicans might have to make critical decisions, and others followed suit Monday.
In an open letter to his constituents, Representative James T. Walsh, a New York Republican who has come under attack at home for backing the president, said he thought September would be a suitable time to reassess the American commitment.
“If Petraeus’s plan is successful, it will be obvious before September,” Mr. Walsh said in a letter posted on his office Web site. “His judgment should surprise no one. If it’s not working, we should be prepared to begin withdrawing our soldiers.”
Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican facing a potentially tough re-election fight, also pointed to early fall as a likely turning point in the debate. “There is a sense and a reality that there is a lot we have to see by September,” he said.