Congress delays in passing Bush’s war spending bill

WASHINGTON – Democrats are not expected to take up President Bush’s war spending request until November, giving them time to calculate their next move and see if Republican support for his policies deteriorates.

The delay in passing the bill, which Bush says is needed by Oct. 1, is likely to intensify the standoff between the Democratic-controlled Congress and Bush, who says at least 130,000 troops are needed in Iraq through next summer.

“Just because this administration wears blinders, we cannot afford the limitations of their shortsighted world view,” said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a Vietnam veteran and prominent war critic.

Democrats are in a tough spot. Still lacking enough votes in the Senate to pass legislation ordering troops home by spring, they would have to soften their approach if they want to attract more Republicans. But doing so would rile much of the party’s rank-and-file, elected on anti-war platforms and eager to cut off money for combat.

“There’s a lot of anger out there,” Murtha told reporters yesterday at the National Press Club. “A lot of people are very unhappy with the Democrats because we haven’t been able to get anything done.”

In February, Bush requested $147 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in budget year 2008, which begins Oct. 1. As early as this week, Bush is expected to ask for another $40 billion to $50 billion.

Murtha, who chairs the House committee that oversees military spending, estimated Congress is likely to ignore the request until November.

Congress could pass a stopgap funding measure that would include money for the war.

In the meantime, Congress also is expected to approve the Pentagon’s nearly half trillion annual budget, which omits war spending. That money covers routine costs, including training, payrolls and weapons procurement.

Under that bill, the military is expected to be granted the authority to transfer money between accounts, potentially keeping the war afloat for several more months.

Murtha and other Democrats say final passage of the annual spending bill _ anticipated by early October _ curbs the urgency of the separate war spending bill. It also lends breathing space to a party divided on what to do next.

Murtha has said he favors paying for the war in three- or four-month installments. Other Democrats say they don’t want to leave the impression that Congress could cut off money for the troops at any given month; they favor bills aimed at forcing a change in policy.

At the Pentagon on Monday, officials released a quarterly report on the war that echoed last week’s testimony of Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq. The report cited recent gains in security, including a decrease in sectarian killings, but little political progress in Baghdad.

Recent operations “have started to create the security conditions that will allow the government of Iraq to implement reforms and pursue reconciliation initiatives,” the report states.

In the Senate, debate resumed on several war-related policy measures.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he would recommend a veto of one proposal _ a bill by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., that would require troops to spend as much time at their home station as they do in Iraq.

Supporters of Webb’s measure say it has at least 57 of the 60 votes needed. It would need 67 votes to override a veto.

A separate proposal by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., seeks to restrict the troops’ mission to fighting terrorists and training the Iraqi security force.

Murtha predicted Monday that Democrats will not be able to pass any meaningful legislation to end the Iraq war until presidential primary elections are over next year.

“As soon as the primaries are over, you’re going to see Republicans jumping ship,” he said.