By ZACHARY COILE
San Francisco Chronicle
April 29, 2008
The bill, which could be unveiled as early as this week, signals that Democrats are resigned to the fact they can't change course in Iraq in the final months of President Bush's term. Instead, the party is pinning its hopes of ending the war on winning the White House in November.
"It's going to be a tough sell to convince people in my district that funding the war for six months into the new president's term is the way to end the war," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a leader of the Out of Iraq Caucus who plans to oppose the funding. "It sounds like we are paying for something we don't want."
The bill is expected to provide $108 billion that the White House has requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawmakers who are drafting it say it also will include a so-called bridge fund of $70 billion to give the new president several months of breathing room before having to ask Congress for more money.
The debate is shaping up as a key test for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The California Democrat, who opposed the war from the start, faces fierce criticism from the anti-war left for refusing to cut off funding for the war. She's trying to hold together a caucus split between anti-war lawmakers, who'd prefer a showdown with the White House, and conservative Democrats, who believe cutting off the war funding would make the party look weak on national security and put its majority at risk.
Pelosi is plotting a "guns-for-butter" strategy to try to force Bush to accept some new domestic spending in exchange for the money he needs to fight the war. The speaker is floating a proposal to extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks for those whose benefits have run out. The package also could include a new GI Bill benefit to help veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan pay for college.
Bush is already vowing to veto any spending that goes over his $108 billion request. House Republicans, eager for an election-year fight with Democrats over spending, are pledging to back up his veto threat.
"We're going to insist that this is about funding the troops and nothing else," House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said last week.
Pelosi has been trying to ease tensions within her caucus over the bill. Anti-war lawmakers met with the speaker last week to urge her to keep the votes on war spending and domestic spending separate.
Last May, Democrats used a similar tactic, staging votes on two amendments -- one for $22 billion in domestic spending, and another for $98 billion for the two wars -- to allow anti-war lawmakers to vote for the domestic spending, but against the money for the war.
The strategy would let many Democratic lawmakers register their opposition to the war, but it wouldn't change the outcome. The Senate would eventually wrap all the spending into one package to send to the White House for Bush's signature.
Democrats may use the bill to put Republicans on the defensive by offering an amendment to boost tax incentives for renewable energy as well as language that would block the administration from implementing new rules that would cut Medicaid payments and shift those costs to the states.
House leaders also may introduce an amendment that would require Bush to use any new war money only for redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq. Bush vetoed a bill with similar language last year and Democrats lacked the votes to override it. Still, Democrats say it would remind voters that it's Bush and Republicans who are refusing to end the war.
But anti-war activists say Democrats are being disingenuous by claiming to oppose the war while also preparing to give the president even more war funding than he requested.
"They are the biggest hypocrites in the world," said Medea Benjamin, the San Francisco-based founder of the anti-war group CodePink. "They want to paint the Republicans as warmongers and they want to keep funding the war, and they think we don't see through this?"
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