Dems prepare backup option in case of war funding veto
The House plans to appoint conferees Thursday and negotiators are expected to meet Monday, with a goal of passing the initial bill in the House next Wednesday and the Senate the following day.
But House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., said it was likely a moot point, considering Bush's likely veto. "The second phase is what's more important," he said.
Murtha said the military has told appropriators they need the money by June 1, which gives lawmakers about a month after next week's expected veto to approve a second bill before the next recess.
The Congressional Research Service has said the Pentagon can shift around enough money to make it into July, but political pressure will be intense to pass a bill before Memorial Day after the relentless hammering Democrats took during the Easter recess.
Democrats say they will have the upper hand politically even if Bush vetoes the first package. "We passed a bill that had the money in it. He needs the money to pursue a mismanaged war. The public is 65 percent against this war," Murtha said. "Nobody wants to cut the funding off from the troops but they want the war to end."
Murtha and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said they would like to act as soon as possible after Bush vetoes the first bill, but they would not discuss details of what a post-veto package would look like. "That's a leadership decision," Obey said.
One idea gaining currency is passing an interim appropriation that would get the Pentagon through a few months of war operations. Democrats might be able to pass it with GOP support, depending on the size of the package. "That's an interesting thing. It depends how far you go," Murtha said.
Rep. James Moran, D-Va., a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said he hoped the second bill would not be a "clean" war-funding bill with no strings attached.
"This bill already represents a heck of a lot of compromise," he said. "Readiness standards will have a waiver, and drop-dead dates will probably be suggestions, so what's he vetoing?"
A member of the "Out of Iraq" Caucus, Moran half-jokingly suggested a desirable outcome might be to let the military funding run dry, forcing Bush to pull out of combat zones. "We might have to withdraw our troops," Moran said. "Holy smokes, that would be a disaster, wouldn't it?"
Democrats are likely to drop the House-passed binding deadlines for Iraq withdrawal. But Obey said he could support any provisions that "contribute to putting pressure on Bush" over his war policies. "We're not writing the Declaration of Independence. We're not writing the Gettysburg Address," Obey said.
Pointing at the GOP side of the aisle in the House chamber, Obey said the Democrats' goal both with the supplemental and with subsequent legislation would be to keep applying pressure until Republicans' "tongues are hanging out" and they say to Bush, "Mr. President, we're not gonna do it no more."
Bush has also threatened to veto the bill over domestic spending added to both House- and Senate-passed bills. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said "we didn't discuss that at all" at Wednesday's meeting at the White House.
Obey said Wednesday he did not anticipate too much of the House-passed additional spending in the bill, totaling $21 billion above the White House request, would be dropped.
"I can defend everything that's in the bill," he said, but there will have to be "a judgment about what level of demagoguery we're willing to endure" from Bush and the Republicans on spending.
For example, he said Republicans have spun a House provision adding $5 million to compensate commercial fish farmers in the Great Lakes who were hurt by a viral outbreak last year into some sort of handout to "tropical fish" handlers.
"The issue becomes, are you going to continue to carry what you should carry because it's a responsible thing to do, or are you going to take away people's ability to beat you over the head with a lie by dropping it out?" Obey said. "So things like that, I'm not interested in carrying it."