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House appropriator to apply pressure for Iraq changes

Committee chairman wants the White House to establish a goal to end U.S. military involvement, ensure that troops receive adequate rest between deployments and begin a "broad scale diplomatic offensive."

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said Tuesday his panel will not report out a war supplemental spending bill this year unless the White House makes drastic changes in its Iraq strategy.

The White House would have to establish a goal to end U.S. military involvement in the country, ensure that troops receive adequate rest between deployments and begin a "broad scale diplomatic offensive" in the region, Obey said. The Bush administration has rejected congressional efforts to set a deadline for troop withdrawal or dictate time at home for troops.

"I have absolutely no intention of reporting out of committee anytime in this session any such request that simply serves to continue the status quo," Obey said. The cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal 2008 is expected to approach $200 billion.

Also Tuesday, House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., said he could attach a bridge fund to the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill to pay for operations in Iraq until the spring. Murtha did not discuss the precise figure he is considering, but bridge funds over the last three years have ranged from $25 billion to $70 billion.

Between the bridge fund and the military's ability to transfer fourth-quarter dollars in its base budget to pay for the war, money for operations will be adequate through March, Murtha said.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino criticized any delay of the supplemental. "Many of these members of Congress went to Iraq over the recess -- during August -- and I would find it hard to believe that they would tell these troops that they're not going to provide them the funding," she said.

Meanwhile, Obey said he is preparing a bill that would levy a war surtax on income taxes to raise $145 billion to $150 billion annually for operations in Iraq. The tax would range from 2 percent for low-income individuals to 12-15 percent for the top income bracket.

Obey said the proposal would be controversial within his party. "I don't expect to get the support of our leadership or the support of our caucus at this point," Obey said. "But by putting together this bill we hope people will stop ignoring what this war is costing American taxpayers and call the president's bluff on fiscal responsibility."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., agreed that this generation needs to be paying for the war, but stressed that the proposal came from Obey, Murtha and Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., and would not take a position on it.

"We are going to discuss Mr. Obey's proposal in the leadership," Hoyer said.

Without a war surtax, Obey warned that the United States will run up huge debts or drain funding for domestic programs such as education, health care, medical research and law enforcement. Murtha echoed Obey's concerns, stating that the war is "starving essential domestic programs."

Perino quickly criticized the proposal. "We've always known that Democrats seem to revert to type and they are willing to raise taxes on just about anything," she said.

Christian Bourge and Keith Koffler contributed to this report.