Monday, March 05, 2007

Iraq Supplemental: House Dem Infighting; Republicans Resolute

Roll Call ($) reports that House Democrats are having a hard time passing the Iraq war supplemental funding bill. Members of the Out of Iraq caucus currently say that they will not vote for legislation that does not force the withdrawal of troops, and House Republicans say that they will not vote for a bill that hamstrings conduct of the operation:

While Democratic leaders have emphasized their party’s unity on the mid-February resolution condemning the proposed troop increase, the supplemental measure is already straining that accord.

The divisions have presented a serious test for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) leadership, as well as for Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), who must shepherd the legislation...

While Murtha appears to have relented on some of his stronger positions — such as putting in conditions that would make it difficult to fund the additional troops Bush wants to send to Iraq — after strong backlash from both sides of the aisle, there continues to be significant discontent among the rank-and-file Members who supported Murtha’s plan.

A potentially large segment of the Out of Iraq Caucus, which numbers 71 and overlaps heavily with the Progressive Caucus, is not expected to support the supplemental spending bill if it contains funds that do support the president’s plan to deploy more troops.

“The only conditions I’ll vote for are full-funding to bring our troops home from Iraq,” Woolsey said Thursday...

But while emergency funding requests for the Iraq War have previously received strong bipartisan support, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced last week that Republicans were ready to take the rare step of formally whipping against the bill if it contained any measures that they believe would put roadblocks up for the White House on Iraq.

“I think placing arbitrary or punitive political hurdles before the commander in chief in a time of war, especially under the guise of supporting our troops, is wrong and it is reckless,” Boehner said late last week.

Boehner said the GOP would adhere to two principles in the supplemental: to oppose any effort to “put handcuffs” on Bush, or to add “unnecessary” additional spending in the bill that does not pertain to the war effort.

Democrats have floated the proposal to give the president waiver authority to make the terms outlined in the supplemental for troop readiness less binding, but Boehner said it was unclear if that would be enough.

“It may. But at the end of the day, these are unnecessary obstacles that will not support our troops ... and will not support the president,” he said. “And if they want to cut the funding, they ought to have the courage to stand up and do it forthright.”

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), the ranking member on the Defense subcommittee, said late last week that he did not believe waiver authority would be enough to appease most Republicans.

“I think it’s accurate to say that our leadership and our defense folks would be opposed to those restrictions with or without a waiver,” he said.

Democrats are also expected to include billions of dollars in additional funds in the supplemental for issues ranging from agriculture relief to the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, among others. And knowledgeable Democratic aides have said they are considering including funds to improve conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

A spokesman for Pelosi said Democrats were hopeful Republicans would ultimately vote for the funding bill.

“Democrats want to make sure that our troops have the equipment and training they deserve and that the Iraqi government meets the benchmarks President Bush endorsed,” said spokesman Nadeam Elshami. “Republican leaders should be supporting our efforts and not threatening to vote against the troops and accountability in Iraq.”

If GOP leaders seek to make this vote a test of party loyalty, it will take a significant whip effort to get the rank-and-file Members to vote against a war supplemental. As one Democratic aide observed, it is difficult to explain the nuance of such votes to the public who see “a vote to shut down the supplemental as a vote to shut down the DOD.” The aide said leaders and appropriators are so far not fearful of being able to pass the bill on the House floor. “If [Boehner] wants to whip against it he does so at his party’s peril,” the aide said.

“If the Democrats insert language that really does hamstring our ability to fight and win this war, then I think it will be an easy whip,” countered a GOP leadership aide, adding that Democrats will face great difficulties uniting their own Caucus. “If it does nothing to hasten troop withdrawal, they lose their Members in the left wing, and if they do put conditions on funding, they lose a whole different segment of the Caucus...”

During their years in the minority, the Democrats forced the GOP to pass most controversial legislation almost entirely with Republican votes. Boehner and the GOP seem to have developed a strong backbone on this issue - as the paucity of votes in favor of the non-binding Democratic resolution on Iraq showed. I'd be very surprised if they bend and vote for a bill that has much support in the Out of Iraq caucus. And I also think it very unlikely that Pelosi and Murtha toss the Out of Iraq caucus overboard in favor of getting Republican votes. I simply don't think that they will desert their base on this.

My prediction is passage of a bill with the funding restrictions and required waivers, with a small number of Republican votes, and with the loss of some 'Blue Dog' votes.

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