'Blank check' seen headed Bush's way, despite Democratic promises to change course in Iraq
Democratic leaders in Congress are quietly preparing to give President Bush essentially everything he wants to keep the Iraq war going for at least another six months without forcing any change in course.
Swept into power on the votes of war-weary Americans last year, Congressional Democrats have so far failed in all their attempts to curtail Bush's war efforts. As they consider the president's latest request for $200 billion in supplementary war funding party leaders have pledged not to hand over another "blank check."
But, as Roll Call reports, a "blank check" is exactly what appears headed for the Pentagon.
"Democratic leaders continue to fear GOP attacks that cutting off or slowing funds would hurt the troops, despite anger among the Democratic base over the party’s failure to use Congress’ power of the purse to end the war," reports the Capitol Hill newspaper's Steven T. Dennis.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) have said they won't consider a supplemental funding bill that doesn't include timelines for troop withdrawals. But, Dennis reports, "Democrats are quietly preparing to give the president enough spending flexibility to keep the war going anyway," for as long as six more months.
As adamant as they say they are about tying war funding to deescalation timetables, Democratic leaders appear even more firmly against an overall cut-off of war funds, which critics say may be their only recourse to actually effect a draw-down of troops from Iraq.
"Sure we have the power on anything to stop the money ... but the thing we have to do is make sure we do it the right way," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on a liberal radio show last month. "It's not a question of all or nothing; it's a question of making sure we do the right thing."
Congress approved billions in extra funding and stopgap spending resolutions after Gen. David Petraeus' testimony on Capitol Hill in September. Next up is the regular Defense spending bill, which Democrats are crafting to allow funding to be diverted from regular Pentagon accounts to fund the war, according to Roll Call. Appropriations Chairman John Murtha (D-PA) told the paper that the Defense Department would be able to maintain the war "until May or June" with the extra flexibility.
In the Senate, an aide told the paper that leaders are considering "short bursts" of war funding as Democrats continue to try to persuade war-weary Republicans to break with the president and support course-changing legislation.
Democrats acknowledge frustration among voters, especially the party's liberal base that has long been calling for an end to America's adventure in Iraq. Pelosi acknowledged the frustration and said she too was frustrated at the lack of progress toward ending the war.
Whether Democrats will be able to reverse the tide depends on their ability to re-frame the debate and stand firm against funding for anything except redeployment, an aide to a Democratic member of the Out of Iraq Caucus told the paper.
"As long as leadership is not willing to challenge the way the president is hiding behind the troops," the aide said, "they're going to continue to get rolled."