Bush may get his way with money

first_imgWASHINGTON (AP) – Flinching in the face of a veto threat, Democratic congressional leaders neared agreement with the Bush administration Tuesday on legislation to pay for the Iraq war without a troop withdrawal timeline. Several officials said the emerging $120 billion compromise would include as much as $8 billion for Democratic domestic priorities – originally resisted by the White House – such as disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina victims and farmers hurt by drought. After a bruising veto struggle in which Bush vetoed one Democratic-drafted measure and threatened to reject another, congressional leaders in both political parties said they hoped the compromise would be cleared for President Bush’s signature by Friday. In power less than five months, Democrats coupled their war-related concession with a vow to challenge Bush’s policies anew, and quickly. “We’re going to continue our battle, and that’s what it is, to represent the American people like they want us to represent them, to change the course of the war in Iraq,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Lawmakers in both parties claimed victory in legislation that contained no binding limitation on Bush’s powers as commander in chief. “I view this as the beginning of the end of the president’s policy on Iraq in this war,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. “It ends the blank check of more troops, more money, more time and more of the same. And it begins the notion that we have to have a new direction to Iraq that has accountability, standards that you can measure progress and not.” Emanuel, Reid and other Democrats pointed to a provision setting standards for the Iraqi government to meet in developing a more democratic society. U.S. reconstruction aid would be conditioned on progress toward meeting the goals, but Bush would have authority to order the money to be spent regardless of how the government in Baghdad performed. And despite the Democratic claims of success, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she is unlikely to vote for the war money because it lacks “a goal or a timetable” for a troop withdrawal. Republicans said that after weeks of struggle, they had forced Democrats to drop their demand for a troop withdrawal timetable. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House GOP leader, said: “Democrats have finally conceded defeat in their effort to include mandatory surrender dates in a funding bill for the troops, so forward progress has been made for the first time in this four-month process.” But Republicans agreed to concessions, as well, in terms of billions of dollars in domestic spending that Democrats wrung from them and the administration. Republican leaders had hoped to persuade the White House to make a tougher stand against the Democratic demands, but it appeared that they were undercut by the desire of the GOP rank and file for money for farmers and others. Final details of the measure remained in flux, although Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said at an early evening news conference, “we’re very close to having things tied down.” In all, officials said the measure included about $17 billion more than Bush initially requested. Of the $17 billion, about $9 billion would go for defense-related items and veterans’ health care. The balance would be for other domestic programs. The bill would also include the first increase in the federal minimum wage in more than a decade. Both the House and Senate have passed measures raising the current level of $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour in three separate 70-cent increases over 26 months. Those measures included modest tax breaks, mainly aimed at helping businesses that hire low-skilled or handicapped workers. Obey outlined an unusual procedure in which lawmakers in the House could cast two votes, one on the war-related provisions, and a second on all other items. That would allow liberal Democrats to oppose the war funds, confident that Republicans would supply the support needed for it to prevail. The opposite would be true for the domestic spending, which draws more support from Democats than Republicans. The bill would then go to the Senate, where senators would have to vote yes-or-no on the entire package. The Iraq war has dominated the early months of the Congress that took office in January, as majority Democrats promised to pressure Bush to change course. While Republicans have largely backed Bush, they, too, have grown nervous over the prospect of supporting a war that is increasingly costly and unpopular with the public. The collision led to a veto of legislation that contained a timeline for a troop withdrawal. The House failed to override the veto, and that led to negotiations involving the administration and key lawmakers in both houses. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more