House to Vote on Portioned-Out War Funds
The House is about to take up Democrats' latest attempt to attach limits to money President Bush wants to pay for the war in Iraq.
A vote is expected Thursday on a measure that would give the Pentagon $43 billion now. The president would then have to give a progress report on Iraq before a second vote in July to release more funds.
The Pentagon says the plan is unworkable, and the White House already says the president will veto the measure if it passes.
The bill was crafted by Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and an opponent of the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.
In an interview outside the House chamber, Obey says the measure is an attempt to bring the war to an end:
"The president has asked for $100 billion to continue this war ad nauseum," Obey said. "What we are trying to do is place some reasonable conditions on his use of that money that will put pressure on both the administration and the Iraqis to recognize that our troops can't solve this problem — that there has to be a diplomatiic and political solution."
But White House spokesman Tony Snow says the president will veto the bill if it reaches his desk in its present form. Snow cited the restrictions on the funding for the war, as well as White House objections to some of the specifics of the spending plan.
Obey says it's time for the president to show some flexibility:
"It's time for the president to compromise," he said. "The problem is that this White House doesn't want to compromise ... I'm sorry, but the American people expect us to try to compromise and that means them as well as us."
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates, testifying Wednesday before a Senate panel, said a plan that allows two months of war spending — but then threatens to halt it — would be destructive to the military.
He said the Pentagon lacks the flexibility to start and stop spending on short notice:
"In essence, the bill asks me to run the Department of Defense like a skiff, and I'm trying to drive the biggest supertanker in the world," Gates said. "We just don't have the agility to manage a two-month appropriation very well."
Senate Democrats have stayed on the sidelines, cool to the idea being pushed in the House, but waiting to see how much Republican support it brings.
Meanwhile both sides in the war debate are enlisting current and retired military men to back their positions.
A group of congressional Republicans who gathered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Office in Washington, D.C., listened as a petition was read by VFW Director Bob Wallace.
Called the Appeal for Courage, it was signed by 2,700 hundred service members.
"As an American currently serving my nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to fully support our mission in Iraq and and halt any calls to retreat," Wallace read.
And on the other side of the political spectrum, VoteVets.org released a TV ad in which retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded infantry forces in Iraq, challenges President Bush's claim that he listens to his commanders.
"Mr. President, you did not listen," Batiste says in the ad. "You continued to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps."
Those ads are aimed at influencing three senators and nine members of the House, all Republicans who Democrats have targeted for defeat next year.
One is Rep. Phil English, of Pennsylvania, who says the ad won't change his vote on war funding.
"The people who are pushing the ads and pushing the sham that we're going to have on the floor [Thursday] are less interested in a solution than the domestic politics of the Iraq crisis," English said.
Thursday's vote in the House is expected to be close. Democrats hope they can move the ball over to the Senate, and have a measure to send to the president by the end of the month.
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