WASHINGTON – The House plans to consider by early May legislation that would continue paying for the Iraq war, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday.
The legislation will come after Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador there, testify on April 8 and April 9. The two officials are expected to tell Congress that impressive security gains and modest political progress has been made since last year's influx of U.S. troops, and that troop withdrawals can continue this fall only after officials ascertain it wouldn't hurt security.
Democrats are expected to challenge their recommendation that troops should stay, contending that the Iraqis are not doing enough to hasten progress so long as the U.S. is leading combat operations. They have held off on approving all the money President Bush wants for the war this year.
Congress has approved about $86.7 billion, leaving the military about $102.5 billion short of its request for the 2008 budget year, which began Oct. 1.
It is likely Democrats will again try to tie the money needed by the military to demands that troops start coming home. If so, the debate would become a rehash of last year, when Democrats repeatedly insisted on anti-war language only to back down after falling short of the votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate.
Hoyer, D-Md., questions whether using money to force troop withdrawals is the best approach.
"I think policy needs to be changed," but as long as troops are deployed "those troops need to be supported," he said.
There are now 158,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. By the end of July that number is supposed to fall to 140,000.
Whether additional troops are withdrawn after July is one of the questions that Petraeus is expected to address in his testimony; he has already made it known that he wants a "period of assessment" for at least several weeks after July before deciding on the timing of further withdrawals.