WASHINGTON – A deal on Iraq war spending left both sides chafed Wednesday, with liberal groups frustrated it does not include troop withdrawals and Republicans disappointed the White House is accepting billions in extra domestic spending.
The estimated $120 billion measure would fund the war through September as Bush requested and would not demand troops leave Iraq by a certain date or restrict the deployment of units based on readiness standards. However, the bill does threaten to withhold reconstruction assistance if Baghdad fails to make progress on political and security reforms, although the president could waive that restriction.
The bill also funds about $17 billion in domestic and military-related spending that Bush did not request.
The measure was drafted after Bush's veto of a $124 billion bill that would have ordered troop withdrawals to begin Oct. 1 and would have included more than $20 billion in added spending.
As Congress planned to send Bush the new bill by Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other top U.S. officials headed to Capitol Hill Wednesday to brief lawmakers on progress in Iraq.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration had not seen the final language. But aides and members said administration officials had agreed to its general terms.
Announcement of the deal Tuesday prompted a menacing threat by Moveon.Org, a grassroots anti-war group that rose to prominence in last year's elections. In a statement released Wednesday, the group said its members were calling to pull out all the stops, including possibly targeting the seats of Democrats who ran on anti-war platforms but vote for the deal.
"This is a key test vote on whether your representative is serious about ending the war," MoveOn wrote in an email to lawmakers.
Likewise, the Council for a Liveable World, another influential anti-war group, fired off a letter to lawmakers saying the proposal "unduly slows" the anti-war effort and urged members to reject it.
For their part, Republicans said they are pressing the White House to insist that Democrats drop billions in added funding, particularly some $8 billion for domestic projects.
"We want to see the toughest possible line on extraneous spending in the bill," said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., chair of the House Republican Conference.
According to aides and members, the White House grudgingly agreed to accept the added spending in exchange for Democrats dropping restrictions on military operations.
At the same time, Republicans and Democrats both claimed victory in the deal.
"I think it's a giant step to begin the end of the war," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Pelosi's declaration of victory was in spite of her personal decision to oppose the measure because it does not include a timetable for troop withdrawals. Other House Democrats said they too would oppose it.
"I'm not voting for anything unless it ends the war," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
In order to secure the bill's passage, House leaders are planning to orchestrate two votes on Thursday. The first vote will be on war funding, while the second will decide whether extra money should be spent on domestic emergencies, military base closures, veterans care and other projects.
While Pelosi, Waters and other like-minded Democrats are expected to vote against the first amendment on war funds, GOP members will likely make up for the losses. On the second vote, it is anticipated Democrats will be unified in their support for the measure and overcome GOP objections to the extra spending.
Under the plan, the Senate would receive a single bill and cast its own vote by Friday. If Senate Republicans want to block the added domestic spending, they would have to block the war funds as well.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats now will focus on 2008 defense spending to try to force an end to the war. The House plans to consider the military's annual budget this July and delay debate on 2008 war funding to September, just as the White House delivers a critical progress report on Iraq.
"I think we have moved debate very substantially forward, and we will continue to do so" in the upcoming spending bills, said Hoyer, D-Md.