Ideas Abound, but Agreement is Scarce on Iraq War Funding Bill

Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to move an emergency war funding bill next week in the Senate that looks nothing like the one his House counterparts are expected to pass on Thursday.

Reid, according to aides, will introduce a bill with "[Iraqi government performance] benchmarks de-linked from a redeployment plan."

One idea being seriously discussed is to keep the Oct. 1, 2007, start date for redeployment but include giving President Bush the power to waive that withdrawal. According to the proposal, Bush could then use this authority only in 90-day increments, setting up mandatory reporting requirements as to why the waiver was used.

Reid told FOX News last week that he would like to keep the Oct. 1, 2007, redeployment timeline in any new bill but that the votes are not likely there for passage. And there is little chance the White House would support this approach.

"We aren't going to support any timeline in the bill, even with a waiver," one White House liaison told FOX News.

Tying the $2.3 billion in the bill for U.S. reconstruction aid to Iraqis meeting certain performance benchmarks was an idea that initially appeared to be gaining steam. That does not appear to be the case any longer.

It "has not been seriously discussed," Democratic leadership aides told FOX News.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., usually a strong barometer of the position Democrats take on the war, said Tuesday he was cool to the idea, given that the goal is to force the Iraqis to come to a political solution.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a former Army Ranger and Democratic leader on Iraq war policy, said he agrees with Levin.

"We want a political solution, and to take away the money would send the wrong signal. One of the benchmarks is for the Iraqis to commit $10 billion of their own money. They haven't done that yet."

Both Levin and Reed say the money strings offer little to no leverage for the United States, especially when reports show that the Iraqis have yet to spend the $18 billion in U.S. aid already appropriated.

Reed, for his part, said he would like to see a new bill that contains troops readiness requirements.

Meanwhile, a trio that once tried to broker a compromise on the war, former Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Democratic moderate Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska have taken up the mantle again. Warner told reporters he expects to unveil something by week's end, offering no detail on what that compromise would entail.

Nelson said he is working on a proposal that would give the president authority to withhold reconstruction funds if performance benchmarks aren't met. Nelson favors monthly reporting on the benchmarks, but he says he would accept a longer timeframe.

"You have to see what the report card says to evaluate the level of commitment from the Iraqis. You don't want to prescribe the consequences like troop withdrawal. You want to have all options on the table, if the report card is bad," Nelson said.

The White House liaison, listening in to Nelson's description to reporters, reacted favorably to the proposal. Nelson has discussed his ideas with the White House and said he's not been discouraged from his effort.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., put out a statement from his office, indicating the level of concern in the party for continuing the war and underscoring the difficultly in coming up with a bill the president could sign.

"The president's decision to veto the original legislation carries consequences that will echo for a long time. This veto ensures that hundreds, maybe thousands, more will die in Iraq. It forces our military to continue to pursue a mission impossible, creating democracy at the point of an American gun," Byrd said in his statement.

"If the White House clings to its failing occupation of Iraq to the detriment of all other priorities in this country, we will see more stories of heartache like those from Kansas and the Gulf Coast. We will see more troops and veterans having to wait and wait and wait for medical care. That simply is not acceptable," he said.

Proposals are coming from all quarters in the Senate. The first bipartisan bill appeared Wednesday. Offered by Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine, both who recently traveled to Iraq, the bill would tie U.S. troop presence to the Iraqi benchmarks being met.

If the benchmarks aren't met, "U.S. forces associated with the surge would redeploy, and the remaining forces would transition to a far more limited mission," according to a release from the senators.

The Snowe-Bayh bill would dictate a mission of: (a) training and equipping Iraqi forces; (b) assisting deployed Iraqi brigades with intelligence, transportation, air support and logistics; (c) protecting U.S. and coalition personnel and infrastructure; and (d) maintaining rapid reaction teams and special operations forces to undertake strike missions in Iraq against Al Qaeda and for other missions considered vital by the U.S. commander in Iraq.