Iraq Bill Ties Funds To Progress

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Wall Street Journal
May 7, 2007
Pg. 6

By David Rogers
WASHINGTON -- House Democrats are drafting a new Iraq war spending bill that fences off more than half the military funds until a second vote by Congress in July, when lawmakers will assess progress made by the Baghdad government.
The bill steps back from demands that U.S. forces begin withdrawing by a fixed date, a flash point in the bill President Bush vetoed last week. But the prospect of a two-step funding process is sure to irritate the administration even as it helps mollify factions in the Democratic caucus.
The delicate balance illustrates the challenge facing the White House and new Democratic majority as they try to reconcile their differences and find the votes needed to enact a funding bill before the Memorial Day recess.
The basic structure borrows from one used in the early 1980s to resolve differences over the future of the MX missile program then favored by President Reagan. Congress approved funding for the MX late in 1982, but required a second vote in 1983 on whether to release $560 million for the development of a basing plan for the intercontinental missile.
Mr. Reagan won that vote, just as Mr. Bush could very well win the second vote envisioned now. But the Iraq debate is far dicier, because the war funds cover military operations overseas.
The draft bill would provide about $43 billion, or 45% of the $95.5 billion, in defense spending up front to avoid any disruption of operations prior to the second vote. Military personnel and operations accounts would get about 50% of the administration's request, and increased funds are provided for defense health programs and production of high-priority armored vehicles.
The remaining 55%, or about $53 billion, would be withheld pending the second vote. That is expected to come in late July following on two reports required from the administration on progress made toward stated goals in Iraq and the performance of the Baghdad government.
Moderate Republican support could be crucial, and the two-step approach is similar to one advocated in the past by New York Rep. John McHugh, a senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.
Democrats denied Mr. McHugh a chance to offer his amendment in March when the first Iraq bill was on the House floor. But his proposal would also have reduced defense funds in the bill by 50% and set up a July debate after Mr. Bush submitted a new war-funding request and reported on how far the Iraqi government had come toward a set of political and economic benchmarks.
Mr. McHugh's amendment said approval of the president's post-July request would be "predicated on progress" by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in achieving these "performance measures," such as passage of a law to share Iraq's oil revenue to benefit all its citizens.
Given the partisan environment, Mr. McHugh appears hesitant about embracing the Democratic bill. But if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) can assure moderates in both parties that a second vote will take place -- not simply be delayed -- it could yet win more bipartisan support.
Given the procedural hurdles in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has yet to commit to the House strategy. For this reason, Democrats have warned the White House that a final deal can't really be reached until the two chambers have each passed bills and begun final negotiations.
This has frustrated the administration, which had hoped for a quicker resolution. But the White House is also paying a price for having so long ignored many of the Democratic players now in power. White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D., Wis.), two principal negotiators, have scarcely dealt with one another in the past. Mr. Obey said he had no recollection of even meeting Mr. Bolten before their first talks last week.
Republicans say time is running against the Democrats, who risk embarrassment if no solution is found soon. "We want a clean bill," said House Republican Leader John Boehner on Fox News yesterday. But the Ohio Republican also signaled that Mr. Bush risks defections in the fall if the war situation hasn't improved.
"By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B," Mr. Boehner said.