Congress adjourns without providing Iraq 'bridge fund'

Congress adjourned Friday for Thanksgiving without approving a $50 billion bridge fund to continue military operations in Iraq, leaving the Pentagon to cover the war costs out of its base budget.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated no money would be forthcoming this year after the chamber failed to invoke cloture on the bill, which would tie the money to a withdrawal timeline and other conditions. The House passed the bill Wednesday 218-203. Senate Democrats today failed to win the necessary 60 votes to end debate on the bill on a 53-45 vote. The "clean" Republican alternative, which would have boosted the bridge fund to $70 billion, failed 45-53.

War funding without strings is a top priority for congressional Republicans and could end up being a bargaining chip for their support for a Democratic plan to split the $22 billion difference on domestic spending with President Bush. A bridge fund "clearly must be done before we adjourn sine die for the session, "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

Transportation-HUD Appropriations ranking member Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., who supported Democratic-backed spending bills, said he might be willing to support a compromise if it included additional war funding.

"We hope we can get a responsible package, but most of all, the most important thing is we need to provide emergency funding to our troops without telling the commanders how to run the war," Bond said.

Reid called "somewhat laughable" GOP hints that war funding would have to be included in an omnibus appropriations package next month.

"The president just got $470 billion [in the Defense appropriations bill], that's good if we do nothing else until February or the middle of March. We offered him some more money, he refused that, so if they want to follow the president over the cliff, then they're welcome to do that," Reid said. "We are not going to shut the government down. We're going to continue to work. We're not going to have a Gingrich-type Congress."

Democrats are proposing to cut $10.6 billion from their initial proposed spending bills. Even with the cuts, security-related spending Bush requested would rise 11 percent above the current year, while non-security domestic spending Democrats want would grow about 3 percent. Under the new allocations, Democrats would increase spending across most government agencies by $10.9 billion above last year; by contrast, the Defense bill Bush signed this week increases non-emergency funding by $39.7 billion from last year.

The bridge fund was to be a down payment on Bush's request for an additional $196.4 billion in emergency war-related and diplomatic spending. White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto today pressed lawmakers to approve the $6.9 billion portion devoted to international aid, especially $723.6 million requested to support peacekeeping in Darfur. Under the new spending plan, Democrats would allocate $33.4 billion to the regular foreign aid budget -- about $855 million less than the House- and Senate-passed bills. A congressional aide said the Darfur funding could be added to the omnibus as an emergency requirement.

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