WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday said they would press ahead with a new Iraq funding bill, despite a White House veto threat and a cold Senate reaction to a bill that would dole out combat funds in pieces and force a July vote on withdrawing troops.
“The House bill is going to change,” promised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters President George W. Bush would veto the House bill if it reached his desk.
While House Democratic leaders want to pass the new war funds bill by late Thursday, support was being measured and some aides said the vote could slip to Friday or next week.
Under the bill, which is not expected to become law, Bush would get a $42.8 billion down payment. Then, after getting White House war progress reports in July, Congress would cast votes late that month on whether to release an additional $52.8 billion to continue fighting in Iraq through September, or whether to use the money to withdraw most of the troops by the end of this year.
Bush wants all the money for fighting the war now and without conditions.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Senate panel that the two-step funding idea would create budget nightmares in the Pentagon.
“The bill asks me to run the Department of Defense like a skiff and I’m trying to drive the biggest supertanker in the world,” he said.
Cognizant of the opposition, House Democratic leaders appeared firm in their resolve to get the bill passed, which could give them a stronger negotiating position after the Senate passes a different measure, probably next week.
“Our bill will fully fund the troops, honor our commitment to our veterans, hold the Iraqi government accountable and end the war,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “The president’s only response to our good-faith efforts is another veto threat,” the California Democrat said.
Reid, after a meeting with White House officials, told reporters he was still trying to write a Senate version of a war-funding bill to replace the $124 billion one Bush vetoed last week, which set an October 1 deadline for starting to bring troops out of Iraq.
A bipartisan group of senators, many of them centrists, were meeting privately in an attempt to come up with a war-funding bill that could attract a solid majority of the 100-member Senate, according to Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat.
Nelson, who opposes setting deadlines now for withdrawing troops, instead would tie about $2.3 billion in reconstruction funds for Iraq to progress in stabilizing the country.
He said that a series of reports Bush would submit to Congress on stabilizing Iraq could trigger future legislation on withdrawing U.S. troops if there was insufficient progress.
“If we get to September and it’s all Fs and Ds (on reports submitted by Bush) ... I don’t know what Plan B is, but I bet Plan B will be developed rather quickly,” Nelson said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, teamed up with Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, introducing legislation that could end U.S. combat in Iraq around April 2008 if Iraq fails to meet military and political goals for stabilizing the country.
Snowe, returned this week from a visit to Iraq, where she said she found the “good news mixed, but the bad news deeply disturbing.”
Republicans, nervous about the sinking popularity of the war and the Republican president, this week began talking about a September or October timeframe for seeing success in Iraq or demanding a new plan.
Democrats continue to be split over how to end the war. Presidential candidate John Edwards said, “Congress should not back down to the president’s veto. They should pass the same bill they sent him last month, a plan to support our troops, end the war, and bring them home.”
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