Reports Question Democrats' Pledge of
No Blank Checks for Iraq
December 15, 2007 -- News reports suggest the Democratic leadership in Congress may be planning to provide $70 billion for the Iraq war without a withdrawal timetable, despite recent pledges by leading Democrats that there will be no more "blank checks" for Iraq.
In his Saturday radio address, President Bush said, "This week Congress considered a defense authorization bill. An authorization bill is a pledge to spend money. Under such a bill, Congress will make a promise to fund our troops in combat. But a congressional promise -- even if enacted -- does not pay the bills. It is time for Congress to provide our troops with actual funding."
In November, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "He damn sure is not entitled to having this money given to him just with a blank check," and further that "Americans need someone fighting for them taking on this bully we have in the White House."
President's Radio Address
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. In a time of war, America's top priority should be to ensure that our troops on the front lines get the funding they need. So beginning in February, I submitted detailed funding requests to Congress to fund operations in the war on terror. Congress has had months to pass this funding. Unfortunately, with just days to go before members leave for their Christmas vacation, they still have not come through with these funds.
This week Congress considered a defense authorization bill. An authorization bill is a pledge to spend money. Under such a bill, Congress will make a promise to fund our troops in combat. But a congressional promise -- even if enacted -- does not pay the bills. It is time for Congress to provide our troops with actual funding.
The stakes are high for our men and women on the front lines. Our troops are striking blows against the terrorists and extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and these funds are critical to their continued success. The funds I have requested include money to carry out combat operations against the enemy. They include money to train the Iraqi and Afghan security forces to take on more responsibility for the defense of their countries. They include money for civilian agencies deployed in the field with our military to help build local governments and create jobs. And they include money for intelligence operations to protect our troops on the battlefield.
Congress has had plenty of time to consider the emergency funds our troops need. Time is running out. And Pentagon officials say that continued delay in funding our troops will soon begin to have a damaging impact on the operations of our military. Congress' responsibility is clear: They must deliver vital funds for our troops -- and they must do it before they leave for Christmas. Our men and women on the front lines will be spending this holiday season far from their families and loved ones. And this Christmas, they deserve more than words from Congress. They deserve action.
Thank you for listening.
Democrats vow not to be bullied by Bush on Iraq
Thu Nov 15, 2007 2:42 PM ET
By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Democrats who lead Congress likened President George W. Bush on Thursday to a bully on Iraq war policy and vowed to spend no more on combat without a deadline for bringing U.S. troops home.
"He damn sure is not entitled to having this money given to him just with a blank check," Sen. Harry Reid, the Democrats' Senate leader, told reporters.
"Americans need someone fighting for them taking on this bully we have in the White House," he said.
Reid and other Democrats, who hold slim majorities in both houses of Congress, accused Bush of wanting a free-flow of hundreds of billions of dollars for the Iraq war, all the while being tight-fisted on the home front.
"Every dollar we spend in Iraq comes at the expense of people in America," Reid said.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, defying the Republican Bush by tying the measure to $50 billion in new war funds. The money would be only about a quarter of what Bush has requested. The vote was 218-203.
Senate Democrats said they would force a vote very soon on legislation that sets a goal for ending U.S. combat in Iraq.
Under the Democrats' plan, there would be a non-binding goal to get all American combat soldiers out of Iraq by Dec. 15, 2008. The measure faces an uphill fight in the Senate where Republicans have vowed to block it, and the White House has said it will veto it.
Reid insisted the Senate would vote by Sunday and his counterpart, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said there would be no compromise before the end of the year, setting the stage for a standoff into early 2008.
Republicans said they would try to pass an alternative measure giving the Pentagon $70 billion without any strings attached.
Late on Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called on Congress to send Bush a "clean" emergency funding bill, without withdrawal dates.
"If legislation comes to the president in this form, he will certainly veto it," Perino said in a statement after the House vote.
The Army warned that unless Congress approved more money by mid-February, it might have to lay off more than 100,000 civilians and cancel contracts in order to finance the wars.
Army Secretary Pete Geren told the Senate Armed Services Committee the Pentagon had $27 billion it could use for war operations and it was likely to run out by then.
"We will beggar the home front to make sure our soldiers in theater have everything they need," Geren said.
The White House has asked for $196 billion for the two wars in the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. Since the wars began, the Bush administration has made mostly "emergency" funding requests for them, separate from the regular Pentagon budget.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told the committee the war had placed great strains on soldiers, families and equipment because of lengthy and repeated deployments.
"The current demand of our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies," he said. (Editing by Howard Goller)
Bush Appeals to Congress for Iraq Funds
By DEB RIECHMANN
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush appealed to Congress on Saturday to give him real cash for the war, not just a pledge to fund the troops.
"A congressional promise -- even if enacted -- does not pay the bills," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "It is time for Congress to provide our troops with actual funding."
The broadcast is the president's latest shot in a battle the White House is having with Congress over spending bills.
The Senate on Friday passed a defense policy bill for the 2008 budget year. It authorizes $696 billion in military spending, including $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it does not actually send any money to the Pentagon.
"Congress has had plenty of time to consider the emergency funds our troops need," Bush said. "Time is running out, and Pentagon officials say that continued delay in funding our troops will soon begin to have a damaging impact on the operations of our military.
"Congress' responsibility is clear: They must deliver vital funds for our troops -- and they must do it before they leave for Christmas," Bush said.
Next week, Democrats are expected to let Senate Republicans attach tens of billions of dollars for the Iraq war to a $500 billion-plus government-wide spending bill. That move would be in exchange for GOP support on a huge spending measure that would fund the government.
The war money would not be tied to troop withdrawals, as Democrats want. But it would let Democrats wrap up their long-unfinished budget work and go on vacation before Christmas. It also would spare them from being criticized by Bush during the holiday recess for leaving work without providing money for the troops.
Without the money, the Defense Department said it would start delivering pink slips to thousands of civilians this month.
Congress passed just one spending bill before the end of the fiscal year in October, so most of the government is being run under a temporary continuing resolution.
Congressional negotiators are working to cut hundreds of federal programs, big and small, as they fashion the catchall government funding bill.
But while agreement with the White House remained elusive, negotiations went ahead on the assumptions that Democrats would largely accept Bush's strict budget for domestic programs and that he would ease up a bit if additional funding for Iraq is approved.
In the meantime, the House passed a bill to keep the federal government open for another week to give negotiators time to work on the omnibus spending bill, pass it in both the House and Senate and then adjourn for the year.
Dems cave on spending
By Alexander Bolton
December 13, 2007
Senate and House Democrats backed down Wednesday from a spending showdown with President Bush.
The Democrats' capitulation Wednesday on the total domestic spending level is the latest instance of Bush prevailing on a major policy showdown. Bush and his Senate Republican allies have repeatedly beat back efforts by Democrats to place restrictions on funding for the war in Iraq as well as Democratic attempts to expand funding of children’s health insurance by $35 billion.
Democratic leaders said Wednesday that they would keep total spending at the strict $933 billion limit set by the White House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also abandoned a proposal she supported Tuesday to eliminate lawmakers’ earmarks from spending bills after she faced stiff opposition from powerful fellow Democrats.
Pelosi told the Democratic chairmen of the House Appropriations subcommittees, the so-called cardinals, that earmarks would stay in the omnibus and that Democratic leaders would accede to cut spending to levels demanded by Bush to save 11 spending bills from a veto, said sources familiar with a meeting that took place in Pelosi's office early Wednesday morning.
The Democratic cardinals rebelled against a plan suggested by Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) to save $9.5 billion by slashing earmarks. Obey hoped to use the money to minimize cuts to domestic programs important to Democrats.
Pelosi emphasized in a press conference Wednesday afternoon that "we don't want the bill vetoed," in reference to a massive omnibus that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House are in the midst of negotiating. She said leaders would have a better understanding of the bill's details by mid-Thursday.
Although Democrats have accepted Bush's spending ceiling, obstacles remain to reaching final agreement. House and Senate Democrats are pursuing different approaches to slimming the spending package.
House Democrats have elected to manipulate funding levels for various government programs to reflect their policy priorities. The House Appropriations subcommittee chairmen have been given substantial leeway to decide which programs will be cut and boosted in the process.
The Senate is expected to adopt a straight across-the-board cut without discriminating among Democratic and Republican favorites, said several Democrats briefed on leadership negotiations.
As a result, even after House and Senate appropriators shave the omnibus to Bush's number, they will still have to wrestle over differences in each chamber's version.
House leaders are also planning to trim money from individual earmarks but will stop well short of eliminating projects entirely, as Obey proposed.
The good news for Democrats is that their concession on overall spending brings them significantly closer to enacting into law a range of spending priorities.
Pelosi highlighted several areas that would benefit from the passage of Democratic-crafted spending bills, including children’s health and the National Institutes of Health.
She said it is "immoral" that researchers are missing many opportunities to advance health science because of insufficient federal funding, noting that 1,500 Americans die every day because of cancer.
Another significant difficulty emerging for Democrats is a disagreement over war funding. Pelosi made clear that a House-passed omnibus would not include any more funding for the war in Iraq, although it may include funds for military operations in Afghanistan.
One senior House appropriator said that plan means it will be left to the Senate to decide how to package war funds in the omnibus. As lawmakers scramble to recess before Christmas, there will be pressure to add war funds without restrictions on Bush's ability to conduct the war. The president has vowed to veto any effort to withdraw troops from Iraq or impose other constraints.
House Democrats may face the difficult proposition of considering a spending package that includes unfettered war monies. Pelosi said she would vote against such a bill but did not say she would prevent it from coming to the floor, revealing a large measure of pragmatism as the first session of the 110th Congress reaches its final days.
In the final analysis, Democrats realized they would not be able to muster enough Republican votes to override Bush's veto. The president vowed to reject any spending package that exceeded the $933 billion limit he set.
Democrats made a final attempt to drive a wedge between congressional Republicans and Bush by threatening to kill all lawmakers' earmarks to bring the cost of the omnibus to the level Bush demanded. Obey hoped rank-and-file Republicans would pressure their leaders to accept a Democratic-proposed compromise that exceeded the White House budget by $11 billion, said a Democratic aide.
But that plan fizzled in the face of stiff Democratic opposition.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who served as the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee before becoming Senate Democratic leader, may have posed the biggest hurdle.
At a Tuesday press conference, Reid declined to endorse the proposal to cut all earmarks and defended his right to steer funds to his home state.
Pelosi also faced strong opposition from the Democratic chairmen of the House Appropriations subcommittees, who in some cases had been waiting through 12 years of Republican control to finally wield a gavel on spending decisions.
Pelosi eased their concerns Wednesday morning by informing them that earmarks would not be cut and spending levels would be pared to the president's levels to smooth the way for the omnibus to pass. Many government programs have had to subsist on a yearlong stopgap spending measure because Congress failed to pass a slew of spending bills in 2006. Many lawmakers want to avoid that from happening again.
Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, said he firmly opposed erasing the earmarks he had hammered out with colleagues. He said rank-and-file Democrats were tacitly promised earmarks for 2008 after they agreed to forgo them for 2007 by accepting the stopgap measure.
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