WASHINGTON – House Democrats are pushing to add billions of dollars to President Bush's $93.4 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including $900 million for troops suffering from brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
An additional $2.5 billion would go to strengthen training and readiness for forces not deployed in war zones, and $1.4 billion would go to address housing allowance shortfalls.
At the same time, the Pentagon said Tuesday it needs about $1 billion more to support Bush's decision to send 21,500 additional combat troops to Iraq. It also said it has decided against using the pending supplemental bill to procure combat and cargo aircraft, few if any of which could have been built in time to affect the war.
The $1 billion would support at least 4,000 additional support troops, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England told the House Budget Committee. Up to a total of 7,000 support troops might needed, England said.
The Democratic add-ons for military health care, readiness and mine-resistant vehicles are aimed in part at making the bill more attractive to lawmakers, including Republicans who might be considering voting against the measure over language that would curb deployments of troops to Iraq who have had insufficient rest or training or who already had served there for more than a year.
Democrats would permit Bush to get around those restrictions, but only by issuing potentially embarrassing waivers of troop readiness standards.
The Democratic plan would also set benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet for U.S. troop deployments to continue.
Party factions remain at odds over what restrictions to place on the president. One option discussed among Democrats would be to give anti-war Democrats a vote to cut off war funding altogether — based on the assumption it would be defeated.
But many rank-and-file Democrats don't want to cast such a politically nettlesome vote, leadership aides said.
Reflecting continuing divisions among Democrats over Iraq, the House Appropriations Committee postponed a vote on the measure until next week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also said party leaders are still debating what domestic Democratic priorities to add to the bill, such as farm disaster aid and additional funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Veterans Committee Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif., weighed in Tuesday with a request for $5 billion for veterans, while demands also are growing for money to combat bird flu and provide additional heating subsidies.
"It's getting awfully close to the point where it collapses of its own weight," said a Democratic leadership aide, noting that more than $10 billion worth of domestic add-ons had been tentatively approved.
Hoyer acknowledged that "on every (war funding) supplemental you run the risk of a Christmas tree."