Bush Threatens, Democrats Hold Firm, for Now
Bush Threatens, Democrats Hold Firm, for Now
By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report
The storm brewing over funding for the Iraq war has escalated in recent days. Democrats appear ready to stand firm on their demand that any further funding for US military operations in Iraq be predicated on a timetable for a draw-down of US forces there.
With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid showing little daylight between their positions, the Democrats appear to be gearing up for a protracted stand off with the White House.
However, yet another retreat by the Democrats is not impossible. The New York Times today reported Congressman John Murtha, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, felt the issue of a timetable could still be negotiated. According to the Times, Murtha "said one possible area where he thinks Democratic leaders could compromise is on a date to end the war. He said Democratic leaders want Bush to 'sit down and work out a plan with the Congress so that we work this whole thing out.'"
On November 14, Democrats in the House passed a $50 billion "bridge fund" bill that would continue to fund some military operations, but would begin a limited withdrawal process and would require the president to formulate a "regional stability plan" for the Middle East. The bill includes a provision that would also require US troops to spend at least as much time at home as they do in combat, in accordance with established military readiness requirements. The bill was blocked in the Senate by Republicans.
Speaking at the Pentagon on Thursday, Bush reiterated his threat to begin to layoff up to 200,000 civilian workers at military bases if Congress does not comply with his demand for $196 billion in unrestricted war funds. According to Bush, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates "has directed the Army and Marine Corps to develop a plan to lay off civilian employees, to terminate contracts, and to prepare our military bases across the country for reduced operations." He said this will be a necessary step if Congress does not pass additional funding for military operations immediately.
Democratic leaders have stated publicly they will not consider alternative war funding bills until 2008. If Congressional leaders use their power to withhold funding, even temporarily, it will mark a significant shift in the debate over Iraq. Previous attempts to limit funding have split Democrats, with many members joining Republicans to pass war funding with no strings attached.
Bush administration officials have repeatedly framed the funding issue as a test of support for the troops. In his Pentagon speech, Bush said, "The American people expect us to work together to support our troops. That's what they want. They do not want the government to create needless uncertainty for those defending our country, and uncertainty for their families."
Democrats fired back, blaming Bush's unwillingness to cooperate with Congress for the impasse. In a statement, Reid said, "The president demands more money to continue his failed war policy, yet he and his enablers in Congress have rejected our proposal for an additional $50 billion provided they work with us to change course in Iraq. He cannot have it both ways."
Pelosi issued a series of press releases that highlighted the detrimental effect the continued Iraq occupation has had on military readiness, which she referred to as a "crisis." "The single biggest obstacle to improving our military capabilities is the war in Iraq, which has plunged military readiness to levels not seen since the Vietnam War," Pelosi said.
The charge that cutbacks have to be made to stave off a financial crisis at the Department of Defense (DOD) has been disputed by previous reports from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), the main research arm of Congress.
In the Spring of 2007, CRS issued a report that recommended Congress withhold additional funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until the DOD provided a detailed accounting of money spent up to that point.
With the House funding bill stalled in the Senate, it is unclear if any funding legislation will be proposed before 2008. Congressman David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, previously stated his committee would not report out any funding bill that "continues the status quo," before the end of the Congressional session.
Congress has not yet determined an exact date to begin their Winter recess, but the current session could be concluded as early as the second week of December.
Matt Renner is an assistant editor and Washington reporter for Truthout.