President Bush sternly pressed Democrats to approve money to fund the Iraq war “without strings and without delay” before leaving town for the Christmas holidays, something congressional leaders have already indicated they will not do.
After more failed attempts to pass legislation ordering troops home from Iraq, Democrats have said they plan to sit on Bush’s $196 billion request for war spending until next year.
Bush said this will push the Pentagon toward an accounting nightmare and affect the military’s ability to do its job protecting the country.
“The American people expect us to work together to support our troops. That’s what they want,” Bush said Thursday after spending two hours meeting at the Pentagon with military leaders. “They do not want the government to create needless uncertainty for those defending our country and uncertainty for their families. They do not want disputes in Washington to undermine our troops in Iraq just as they’re seeing clear signs of success.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., responded that Democrats will get troops the money they need as part of a “war strategy worthy of their sacrifices.”
“Bush Republicans have indefinitely committed our military to a civil war that has taken a tremendous toll on our troops and our ability to respond to other very real threats around the world,” Reid said.
End of stalemate?
Meanwhile, there was at least a sign of a potential breakthrough. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said Thursday that after talking with President Bush’s adviser on the Iraq war, he thinks Congress and the White House might be able to end the showdown on war funding.
After a phone conversation on Wednesday initiated by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, Murtha said he’s “more optimistic that there’s a possibility now.” Murtha, chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said one possible area where he thinks Democratic leaders could compromise is on a date to end the war. He said Democratic leaders want Bush to “sit down and work out a plan with the Congress so that we work this whole thing out.”
Democrats had proposed paying for several months of combat instead of a full year as Bush wants. But their bills also would have ordered troop withdrawals from Iraq. With such legislation failing to pass, Democratic leaders say they won’t send Bush a war spending bill this year at all.
In response, Pentagon officials began saying the military will have to take drastic steps next month if it doesn’t get the money soon. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered the Army and Marine Corps to begin planning for a series of expected cutbacks, including civilian layoffs, termination of contracts and reduced operations at bases.
Bush reiterated that theme at the Pentagon, backed by Vice President Dick Cheney and military leaders.
“Congress limits how much money can be moved from one account to the other,” Bush said. “Secretary Gates has already notified Congress that he will transfer money from accounts to fund other activities of the military services to pay for current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — and no more money can be moved.”
The standoff between Democrats and the White House plays well with a fiercely anti-war Democratic support base. But it gives Bush an opportunity to hammer Democrats for not supporting troops, which is what he did during his Pentagon visit.
“Let us tell our men and women in uniform that we will give them what they need to succeed in their missions, without strings and without delay,” Bush said. “I ask Congress to provide this essential funding to our troops before the members leave on their Christmas vacation.”