WASHINGTON – The leaders of a House panel that oversees military spending said Wednesday they are drafting legislation that would pay for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the rest of the year.
Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the committee, predicted the proposal would be done by the end of the month.
Murtha and his Republican counterpart on the panel, Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida, said they hope lawmakers can put aside their differences on the war and focus on taking care of the troops.
"Our troops deserve better and I would hope that we can work together," Murtha told senior defense officials testifying before the House appropriations defense subcommittee.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said such a bill would be extremely helpful because of the Pentagon's need to plan ahead.
"This delay is degrading our ability to operate and sustain the force at home and in theater, and it is making it difficult to manage this department in a way that is fiscally sound," England said.
Bush has requested about $189 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the 2008 budget year, which began Oct. 1. Congress has approved only about $87 billion, leaving the Defense Department $102.5 billion short.
Democratic leaders have said they believe the military has enough money to last through April. They also suggested they want to hear first from Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, before approving more money. He is expected to testify by mid-April, likely the week of April 7.
Murtha told reporters last week that while the legislation would give the military the money it needs, he will recommend it demand troops leave Iraq by the end of the year — a showstopper for the Bush administration. Murtha said he'll ask for other conditions such as that all deploying troops must be fully trained and equipped.
Similar bills scraped by on party line votes in the House last year only to fail in the Senate, where Democrats hold a more narrow margin of control and 60 votes are needed to overcome procedural hurdles. Unable to override a veto with the needed two-thirds majority, Democrats have been forced to strip anti-war language from past spending bills.
Young, R-Fla., said he was hopeful the upcoming bill would ultimately provide the military with what they need.
"The hardware that you need, the equipment that you need, training and training facilities that you need — we're going to do that," he said.
England testified in place of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who fractured his right arm in a fall on an icy step at his home in Washington, D.C., and was treated at Bethesda Naval Medical Center.