WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers unlikely to support a surtax to pay for the war in Iraq are nonetheless warning that if Congress doesn't fund Iraq operations soon, the troops will be left without the resources to fight.
The Senate is currently debating a $460 billion defense spending bill for fiscal year 2008, which started Monday. A continuing resolution is in place until Nov. 16 that keeps the government running at 2007 levels.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey had proposed a war tax to pay for the cost of the war in Iraq. The tax rate of two to 15 percent would raise the $145 billion that annually pays for the war in the defense budget.
Obey, D-Wis., has also refused to bring up a $190 billion supplemental funding request from President Bush unless the president includes a change in Iraq policy. The House on Tuesday passed a resolution, 377-46, to require Bush to give Congress a plan for getting out of Iraq.
"The chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House is talking about withholding the funding for the troops until he gets the president to change his Iraq policy. This is the funding that literally provides the food for the soldiers today in Iraq," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told FOX News.
"It's the funding the president has asked for, not for the Pentagon, not for the Defense Department, not for next year, the funding for this war effort right now that the troops are engaged in," he said.
"It is our hope the Democrats will soon stop trying to score political points and will instead give our troops the funding they deserve and need," Amos Snead, press secretary for House Republican Whip Roy Blunt, told FOXNews.com.
But the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said last week that even without a defense appropriations bill in hand, the Pentagon has plenty of power to move its funding around to cover expenses in Iraq.
"If there's no prohibition on the use of funding in the defense appropriation bill ... even though it's not earmarked or identified, they can use that money," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Committee, on Tuesday angrily denied that he or others who are seeking alternative payment methods for the war are imperiling soldiers on the battlefield.
"We're going to take care of the troops. Period," he said.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted down, 28-68 an amendment sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold and Majority Leader Harry Reid that would stop troop funding by June 20, 2008, with some exceptions. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said he backed the legislation because the president's policy is too costly with no end in sight.
“Giving the president a blank check for a stay-the-course plan that has cost lives and weakened our security is unacceptable. The president’s policy would have this war continue endlessly and it offers no light at the end of the tunnel for 130,000 Americans stuck in the crossfire,” he said.
In a twist of fate, Bush has threatened to veto the defense appropriations bill over a number of policy and spending issues. Speaking to the Lancaster, Pa., Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bush said proposed spending increases in the 12 appropriations bills would add an extra $205 billion on top of his budget request over the next five years.
"So you say, 'That's fine. Sounds good. All these programs sound wonderful.' Except how are you going to pay for it? That's the question I ask. How are you going to pay for the promises? And the answer is raising taxes. And I think they're wrong to raise taxes on the American people. I know we don't need to raise taxes on the American people," Bush said.
"The president has financed what is now going to be a three quarters of a trillion dollar war not on the back of this generation of Americans, but essentially by piling up on the national debt. ... I think that the house of cards which have been built in the fiscal irresponsible policies in the last five years are something that does need to be addressed," countered Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
"I would be in favor of doing something that directed the president to provide his recommendations, as the commander in chief, about how it is that the United States of America should be paying for this war at this time. The way that it will be addressed, based on what the president has done, is it will be essentially tacked on to the growing national debt. I mean, that's a fiscal policy that has been the underpinning for this war," Salazar said in a conference call with reporters and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.