WASHINGTON – In their latest tussle with the White House on the Iraq war, two leading House Democrats said Tuesday the Pentagon was using scare tactics to try to goad Congress into passing another war spending bill.
And Reps. David Obey and John Murtha said they won't bite. Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Murtha, D-Pa., head of the panel's Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said they won't support more money for the war this year unless President Bush accepts a timetable for troop withdrawals.
Last week, the House passed a $50 billion bill that would keep operations afloat for several more months, but sets a goal of bringing most troops home by December 2008. After Bush threatened to veto the measure, Senate Republicans blocked it.
"If the president wants that $50 billion released, all he has to do is to call the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and ask him to stop blocking it," Obey told reporters.
Obey and Murtha convened the rare recess-week news conference to counter Pentagon reports that the military will have to take drastic steps next month if it doesn't get the money soon.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday signed a memo ordering the Army to begin planning for a series of expected cutbacks, including the layoffs of as many as 100,000 civilian employees and another 100,000 civilian contractors, starting as early as January.
Obey and Murtha said they calculate the military has enough money to continue operations through March by eating into its $471 billion annual budget.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the military has only limited transfer authority.
"Those who think we have some sort of flexibility here are simply misinformed," Whitman told reporters on Tuesday. "We've entered into a very serious period here."
Murtha said the Pentagon was issuing "irresponsible" propaganda.
"They're scaring people," he said. "They're scaring the families of the troops . . .That's the thing that's so despicable."
When asked whether public opinion could eventually turn against Democrats if they hold out too long, Murtha said no because the Pentagon has destroyed credibility.
"Go back and look: mission accomplished, al-Qaida connection, weapons of mass destruction," he said. "On and on and on and you'll believe the Pentagon?"