Democrats plan ‘short leash’ for war funds

Times Staff Writer

A week after President Bush vetoed a Democratic war spending measure that set a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, House Democrats said Tuesday they hoped to vote later this week on a second proposal that would impose new conditions on the administration’s prosecution of the war.

Democratic leaders, who are still finishing the plan, will no longer tie war funding to a pullout of almost all U.S. combat forces, which the president has said he will never accept.

But the plan developed by Reps. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) -- and referred to by some Democrats as the “short-leash” plan -- would guarantee about $30 billion in funding only through July for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


At that point, the Bush administration would be required to report on the Iraqi government’s progress on a series of benchmarks, including disarming sectarian militias and passing laws to equitably share oil wealth across the country. Congress would then have to vote to continue funding through the end of September.

Billions of dollars for programs and aid unrelated to the war, which had been in the $124-billion bill vetoed by the president, will no longer be included.

After a caucus meeting Tuesday during which Obey discussed the plan with House Democrats, Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said the current proposal reflected public impatience with the pace of progress in Iraq.

“What’s happening on the ground in Iraq is changing rapidly,” said Emanuel, one of the party’s leading strategists. “And so it gives us the opportunity to respond accordingly.”

Emanuel and other party leaders are rounding up support for the measure so the House can quickly vote on it, possibly as soon as Thursday. Democrats are under pressure to get a new bill to the president by Memorial Day weekend to avoid accusations of holding up critical funding for the troops in the field.

Although a number of House Democrats have expressed support for the plan, it faces some major obstacles.

Tuesday, White House spokesman Tony Snow called the decision to fund the wars in two stages “bad management.” He added: “It denies commanders and forces the kind of predictability they need to be able to plan effectively.”

Republican leaders in the House and Senate also derided the plan. “It’s unconscionable to think that they want to fund a war 60 days at a time,” House GOP Conference Chairman Adam H. Putnam (R-Fla.) said.