Pelosi Turns to Confront Bush on War Spending
Pelosi Turns to Confront Bush on War Spending
By Jason Leopold, Maya Schenwar and Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report
A year after Democrats took control of both houses of Congress, due in large part to the public's frustration with the occupation of Iraq, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a new plan Thursday that ties additional war funding to the withdrawal of US troops from the region.
The so-called "A New Direction in Iraq" is an ambitious piece of legislation that would provide the Pentagon with $50 billion in short-term funding to continue operations in Iraq through early March, and set a "goal" of December 2008 for pulling soldiers out of the country.
The White House said Thursday evening President Bush would swiftly veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Pelosi fired back, telling some reporters following a meeting with Democrats Thursday afternoon that if Bush balks at the proposal she and her Democratic colleagues will not consider any Iraq funding for the rest of the year.
Republicans said if that were to happen the Pentagon would be out of cash to pay for Iraq operations by as early as January, a time frame that the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, has disputed.
Additionally, should specifically allocated war funds expire, Congress could use money from the general defense budget, since the language of the budget does not bar it from being channeled into operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, Democrats hammered out legislation tied to a $99.4 billion emergency-spending bill for Iraq that placed specific benchmarks on withdrawing and redeploying troops. Bush vetoed the legislation. In July, Democrats surrendered to White House demands, and criticism by Republicans who mocked their counterparts for their "cut-and-run" strategy. Democrats relented on the issue saying they did not have enough support to override a presidential veto and helped pass the emergency funds removing earlier restrictions they put in place. The move resulted in a widespread backlash against the lawmakers that helped sink their approval ratings.
Still, Pelosi said Democrats would not hand the White House another "blank check," at a news conference Thursday. "This is providing funding for the troops limited to a particular purpose, for a short time frame."
The $50 billion bill proposal comes on the heels of the passage of this year's general defense spending bill, which appropriates $471 billion for 2008, including $11 billion in Iraq-related funds. The general bill goes to the Senate today for final approval, and is expected to be signed into law by Bush early next week.
In October, President Bush called on Congress to approve nearly $200 billion in additional funds to continue the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. Iraq war costs have skyrocketed to roughly $2.5 billion a week, due in large part to the 30,000 additional US troops Bush sent to Iraq earlier this year, just as Sunni and Shiite factions were at the height of a civil war. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the total cost of the occupation could reach $1 trillion by 2009.
The "A New Direction in Iraq" legislation is scheduled for debate next week. Pelosi had scheduled a debate on the issue Friday, on the eve of the Veteran's Day weekend, but some Democratic lawmakers said during a meeting with the House Speaker Thursday evening that they would not support the bill because it doesn't go far enough. Specifically, the December 2008 troop withdrawal measure is non-binding. It also calls for the redeployment of an unknown number of US troops to an unspecified part of the region. Some in Congress argue that all troops could be withdrawn safely using only existing funds.
"The Democratic leadership in Congress has the power right now to tell the President, 'We will not give you one more dime for this war.' We do not have to keep funding this illegal and immoral war. It does not take a vote," said Congressman Dennis Kucinich in a statement two weeks ago. Kucinich has proposed his own withdrawal legislation, which would use already appropriated funds to bring all troops home within three months.
Pelosi said the legislation she is backing would redefine the mission of US forces in Iraq to "diplomatic and force protection; targeted counterterrorism operations; and limited support to Iraqi security forces."
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-California), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and one of the strongest voices against the continued occupation, said that she is not satisfied with Pelosi's proposed legislation. "I'd rather we put something out there that's stronger than goals, [the bill contains] goals instead of guaranteed withdrawal. That makes it soft for me," Woolsey told The Hill newspaper.
"What I don't want to do is get on this merry-go-round where we try to end this war and negotiate it down to a blank check," said Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts). "It's time to play hardball."
Moreover, the legislation calls for soldiers to spend as much time at home as they have in combat. Thousands of troops have completed multiple tours of duty in Iraq only to be called back to duty after a short stint at home.
David Obey (D-Wisconsin), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in September after Bush's funding request, that he has "no intention" of passing an Iraq funding bill through his committee "that simply served to continue the status quo."
Senator Robert Byrd (D-Virginia), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, became visibly upset last month when Pentagon officials disclosed how much additional funding was needed to continue occupying Iraq.
"If granted, we will have spent more than 600 billion! - billion! billion! - dollars" on the "nefarious and infernal war in Iraq," Byrd said.
Jason Leopold is senior editor and reporter for Truthout. He received a Project Censored award in 2007 for his story on Halliburton's work in Iran.
Maya Schenwar is a reporter for Truthout.org.
Matt Renner is an assistant editor and Washington reporter for Truthout.