In order to provide Democrats a legislative vehicle to begin negotiations with the House on a new supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Senate today passed a resolution that simply expresses support for the troops.
Congressional Democrats and President Bush's top aides are now entering another round of negotiations on the funding, which is expected to continue for days. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have pledged to work through the Memorial Day district work break for Congress in order to get the bill to President Bush.
The House wants to fund the war in two-month installments, giving members a chance to cut off money for combat if conditions in Iraq do not improve. However, the votes aren't there for that in the Senate, and Bush threatened to veto anyway. Yesterday, the Senate considered several Iraq war-related amendments to a water projects bill in order to test what conditions the Senate was willing to place on a new war spending bill.
As noted yesterday, the Feingold-Reid amendment to cut off funding after March 31, 2008 failed, as did an amendment by Sen. Warner to cut off aid to the Iraqi government if certain benchmarks aren't met but provided a waiver option for President Bush in order to avoid a veto. Most Democrats voted against it as it was too weak a measure, but a majority of Republicans did vote for it showing that their caucus wants some sort of accountability, even if it's consequences are tepid and small.
Sen. Levin pulled off the floor his proposed amendment that was identical to the war spending bill the House and Senate passed a few weeks ago, but would give President Bush the ability to waive the redeployment requirements every 90 days after reporting to Congress on why he was doing so. However, the White House issued a veto threat even over that.
So the question becomes, what can the Congress actually pass that Bush will sign? Reid and Pelosi insist such a bill will not be "another blank check" but obviously the votes aren't there to defund the war and unless Democrats join with the Warner proposal, it doesn't seem Bush is willing to sign anything else. It is increasingly looking like any serious restrictions on war spending will have to wait until at least September, when it's possible (but hardly assured) more Republicans may be on board with overriding Bush. Meanwhile, more money will be wasted and more U.S. troops will die because of their false hope for the "surge" to work over this summer.
Might I again suggest considering the "half-trillion dollar solution" proposed by Bruce Ackerman and Rep. David Wu of Oregon? They propose limiting all future expenditures in Iraq to $150 billion. The ceiling is fixed at a level which they say assures that all troops will leave Iraq by inauguration day of 2009, but if Congress wants a quicker termination, they can impose a rider to the next appropriations bill that specifies a smaller number as the budgetary ceiling. I don't know if this could pass either, but it deserves some serious consideration.