House Dems weigh delay for extra war funding
None of the 12 fiscal 2008 spending bills have been signed into law and a $23 billion gulf between what Democratic leaders plan to pass and what President Bush wants has brought the promise of vetoes of added domestic funds.
Increasingly frustrated by the impasse as well as a lack of specificity from the White House on its amended war budget, House Democrats are considering delaying the supplemental request until early next year. "It is being discussed," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., confirmed Wednesday.
The idea behind the delay would be to give Democratic leaders more time to forge a strategy, and perhaps shore up support among anti-war liberals who oppose providing more money. But Hoyer stressed there is not yet a consensus, as did a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Aides said the Pentagon has sufficient interim funding under the continuing resolution running through Nov. 16, and eventual passage of the base fiscal 2008 Defense spending bill will provide transfer authority within Pentagon accounts to continue war funding into early next year.
"The money doesn't run out until the end of the year, so it makes sense," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a leader of the "Out of Iraq" caucus who has discussed such a plan with Pelosi.
But that approach might still cause the military to "limp along" until Congress passes a new supplemental, as one aide said, and Republicans would surely pounce if Democrats decide to wait.
Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., said while passage of the fiscal 2008 bill would provide a cushion, it was still risky to adjourn for the year without passing a supplemental. "I think the military would be really stretched thin if they were to do that," Young said.
Democrats are conflicted on the request. Pelosi's ally, Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., favors taking up a bill this year, if only to provide limited funding for three-to-four months to force another round of votes next year.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have said previously their chamber will deal with the war request as early as next month.
A Reid spokesman Wednesday said no decisions have been made on timing but that "regardless of when we act, we will make sure our troops have what they need."
House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said he would wait until he sees details of the Bush request, which was outlined in broad terms by Defense Secretary Robert Gates Wednesday to Senate appropriators, before making a recommendation.
"First of all, I don't telegraph my punches. Second of all, I don't know what my punches are until I see what the hell I'm in the ring with," he said.
At the Senate Appropriations hearing Wednesday, Byrd made it clear he was not pleased with the lack of detail and that he considered postponing the hearing altogether.
"There are so many fundamental flaws in the president's Iraq policy and the execution of that policy that I decided we should proceed with this public airing of the issues," said Byrd. "This committee will not rubber stamp every request that is submitted by the president."
Gates said the Pentagon would need another $42.3 billion, revising the administration's earlier February request upward to $189.3 billion.
The new request, which has yet to be formally transmitted in the form of a budget amendment, would almost double funds for protective equipment to $30.5 billion.
More than half of that, about $16 billion, is for production and delivery of mine-resistant armored vehicles, nearly doubling the number originally envisioned, to 15,000.
The CR, which the Senate takes up later this week, provides a $5.2 billion downpayment to keep production on schedule for delivery next spring.
The biggest percentage increase from February would boost funding to improve the readiness of ground troops to $8 billion, five times the initial request.
The training and equipment funds include $1 billion for National Guard pre-deployment readiness, Gates said.
Another $6.3 billion is requested for operational costs, at a total of $76.9 billion -- the largest single component of the supplemental request.
The extra money would go toward Bush's stated intention to redeploy five Army Brigade Combat Teams by next summer.
Replacing and maintaining worn-out and damaged equipment is the second-largest component, with the amended request adding $8.9 billion, for a total of $46.5 billion.
The State Department provided fewer details on its revised request, to the consternation of State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. State previously requested $3.3 billion in February, and even then "my telephone bill offers more detail," Leahy said.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told the committee additional funds would be requested for Iraqi infrastructure, grants to areas where insurgents have been driven, and embassy security for U.S. personnel, as well as economic aid for Afghanistan. He also said that, given political developments in the West Bank and Gaza, funds would be requested for the Palestinian Authority, although with strict financial controls.
Negroponte said "other areas are still under discussion within the administration," which sources described as a tug of war between State and the Office of Management and Budget.
The department has previously requested as much as $8 billion more, including Darfur peacekeeping funds and fuel and humanitarian aid for North Korea, sources said, but OMB has been reluctant to sign off on a budget amendment that expands the scope of the requests beyond the Middle East and Afghanistan.
With total war-funding set to exceed $600 billion overall, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., at the hearing bemoaned the "constant progression upward" in annual war budgets since 2003.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., summed up the attitude of many Democrats, considering Bush's less-generous stance on domestic programs. The new $42.3 billion request is nearly "twice what we are being asked to cut in our domestic programs," she said. "It's disconcerting to many of us."