Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Democrats in no Hurry to Fund Troops

That seems to be the message from the decision of Congressional leadership to take their Easter/Passover break as scheduled - even though it means they won't send the Iraq spending bill to the President until after April 15 - the date by which the administration says it's needed:

The Senate will take a final vote before the Easter recess Thursday but is not expected to reconcile its version with the House bill until both chambers are in session April 16 -- one day after the Pentagon says it must get the emergency funding for troop operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to avoid cutbacks.

The White House doesn't intend to accept the IOU quietly, accusing the Democratic-controlled Congress of skipping town before its work is done.

"They should stick around until they send him a bill," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "You can be sure that we won't be shy about talking about that."

When they do complete the conference report, it will be the 'slow-bleed' version - the one that the President promised to veto weeks ago. According to Senate Democrats, the real deadline is May 1, and they intend to send the veto bait to the President 'well before' that date:

Senate Democrats said they are sensitive to the need but were assuming a May 1, not April 15, deadline, based on information and testimony they received from Defense Department officials.

"Secretary Gates has changed his tune publicly a little," the Senate Appropriations Committee spokesman, Tom Gavin, said Tuesday.

Gavin said a few days' difference would not impose an extraordinary burden. "The Pentagon has the authority within the law to transfer funds to support military action," he said.

Congressional staff will negotiate a compromise bill over the break, which is one week for the Senate and two weeks for the House, "with the goal to get a conference report well before the end of the month," Gavin said.

So it's clear they don't take Gates' deadline seriously. It's my impression that April 15 is in fact a 'soft' deadline. Gates asserts that it will have 'a genuinely adverse effect on the readiness of the Army and the quality of life for soldiers and their families.' In the past however, DoD has shifted funds to minimize the impact of funding delays.

I've not gotten any sense however, that the same is true of the May 1 deadline. Will the Democrats meet that deadline? And in trying to do so, what sort of brinkmanship will they engage in? After all, they're not going to turn around and simply send the President a clean bill all of a sudden. It will still have pork, and it will still have elements of the 'slow bleed' approach.

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