Tension rises in Washington over war-funding bill standoff
Congress is eyeing three strategies after an all-but-certain White House veto of the Iraq war bill.
The Democrats controlling Congress could have rushed the emergency war-funding bill they just voted to the president's desk, where a presidential veto is all but inevitable.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead, they're waiting until May 1 – the four-year anniversary of President Bush's "mission accomplished" speech on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
It's a signal of the drama about to unfold on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as lawmakers and the White House figure out what to do after a veto. Increasingly, the most likely scenario looks like a high-stakes game of chicken where each side waits for the other to blink.
Mr. Bush says he wants a clean bill: no extra spending, no timetables or deadlines. Democrats, citing the 2006 elections, say they have a mandate to change direction in Iraq – and that the public will back them in a standoff with the White House over the war.
On Friday, the president invited lawmakers to the White House on May 2, after his veto, to discuss the "way forward." So far, neither side is disclosing negotiating points. But, in the run-up to an expected presidential veto, consensus is building around three approaches.
For Congress, three options on Iraq
One option, favored by nearly all Republicans and some moderate Democrats, is to agree to strip out deadlines for withdrawal but to still require that the president certify that his own benchmarks for progress in Iraq are being met. These include political reconciliation, a fair distribution of Iraqi oil revenues, and a stronger Iraqi role in improving the security situation on the ground.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, a key swing vote, says he voted for the supplemental bill, despite opposing deadlines for withdrawal, because he was certain that they would be negotiated out of the bill after a presidential veto.
"I favor the Senate bill, minus the deadlines," he said, on the eve of a return visit to Iraq last week.
Advocates for this view say they expect to find the votes to push through a deal.
"I'm quite optimistic that Congress will provide the necessary funds in a timely way for the troops," says Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He says he is developing a post-veto deal with centrists on both sides of the aisle.
"I have the elements in my pocket," he said, after the Senate voted 51-46 for the $124 billion emergency spending bill last Thursday.
Another option, favored by top House appropriators, is to pass a bill to fund the war for two months, and reevaluate after the president's "surge" is fully implemented. Bush administration officials say that a short-term fix doesn't give the Pentagon the flexibility it needs to prosecute the war.
A third option is to stand pat, pressuring the White House to yield or face a funding cutoff. This strategy could also force Republicans in Congress to vote for politically unpopular measures.
"The closer it gets to elections in 2008, the more focused the Republicans in the Senate will be on this issue," says Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, the deputy Democratic leader. "They have to decide if they want to take the president's position as their party position into the election."
For now, Democrats still support the view that the president should just sign the bill.
"It's a great bill. The president should read it and sign it," says Rep. John Murtha (D) of Pennsylvania, who chairs the House panel that drafts defense spending bills. A longtime strong supporter of the military, his repudiation of his 2002 vote supporting the use of force in Iraq gave a congressional face to the antiwar movement.