Congressional Democrats renewed their challenge to President Bush’s Iraq war policy on Thursday, offering $50 billion in interim spending for combat operations coupled to a goal of pulling out most troops within a year.
The plan, which could be voted on in the House as soon as Friday and in the Senate next week, came after a lull in the political conflict over the war. It sought to balance a Democratic desire to keep money flowing to sustain troops overseas with a demand for conditions on the administration’s use of those funds.
“I believe that this legislation gives voice to the concerns of the American people and, at the same time, strives to meet the needs of our troops,” said the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California.
The Democratic plan was certain to be opposed in the House by many Republicans as well as some strongly anti-war Democrats who want tougher restrictions on the president. In the Senate, where past Democratic efforts to impose a timetable for withdrawals have been stymied by Republican opposition, the proposal is likely to run into a filibuster. But Democrats said such a fight would leave Republicans responsible for slowing the money.
Republicans immediately criticized the proposal, saying that conditions in Iraq have improved in recent months, after the president’s troop build-up, and that the Democratic proposal would send the wrong message to fighting personnel.
“As long as we’re continuing to have success, as long as our soldiers are continuing to move out of harm’s way and have Iraqis more out front, I think that the Congress of the United States will not put these kind of handcuffs on our generals or on our troops,” said Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader. Some Democrats had initially been inclined to sit on the president’s nearly $200 billion request for combat operations until the beginning of 2008. But Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., who is a party leader on military issues, and others have argued that it is more responsible to try to provide some of the money now.
If the $50 billion measure stalls, the Pentagon might have to shift money from non-war accounts to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into early next year.
At a private meeting with House Democrats where she presented the plan, Pelosi told lawmakers that if the $50 billion was rejected, Democrats would not move forward with any other Iraq money this year. Someone who was there, speaking anonymously because party meetings are supposed to be confidential, quoted Pelosi as saying: “If you don’t want that, Mr. President, you ain’t getting nothing.”
The confrontation was part of an intensifying fight between Democrats and Bush over spending. But Congress was preparing Thursday to send Bush one spending bill he has agreed to sign — a separate $470 billion spending bill that covers all Pentagon operations except for the wars.
Democratic lawmakers and senior officials said the legislation on the so-called Iraq “bridge fund” was also intended to show Democratic voters frustrated with the inability of Congress to end the war that Democrats have not given up trying to force a change in policy.