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GOP to Target Recess

Parties Spar on Iraq Deadline

After weeks of arguing over when the military will run out of money, House and Senate Republicans hope to up the rhetorical ante this week by formally calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring the House back from a two-week spring recess to finish drafting the controversial $120 billion-plus Iraq War spending bill.

In a letter to be sent to Pelosi today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), along with their top deputies, insist that the Speaker should “call the House back into session immediately” and criticize her for neglecting to take actions that would have allowed a House-Senate conference committee to begin work on the bill over the break. (The Senate took a one-week break and returns Tuesday.)

“We are especially troubled by the House’s failure to appoint conferees. The Senate appointed conferees on March 29, moments after passing its bill, but the House never did so despite passing the bill a week earlier,” the leaders write. “Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Senate that he hoped the House-Senate conference would begin on March 30. … That hoped-for progress has been thwarted by your failure to act.”

The letter is just the latest salvo in a war of words between Republicans and Democrats over when the supplemental actually will be needed, with Democrats insisting the Army could operate until summer without the additional money and Republicans claiming combat operations and military readiness would suffer if the bill is not approved by April 15 — a day before the House is scheduled to return.

Meanwhile, both versions of the Democrat-crafted bills have drawn veto threats from President Bush, primarily because they contain timelines for withdrawal from Iraq, with the House mandating an end to combat operations by August 2008 and the Senate setting a “goal” of having such operations halted by March.

Republicans have said they want Democrats to finish the conference on the bill quickly, so that once the president vetoes the measure, Congress still will have enough time to pass a “clean” funding bill.

Still, Senate Republicans do not have any way to force the House to come back, since they already agreed to the House’s two-week recess when they did not object to the March 29 passage of the House-Senate adjournment resolution, which sets the House’s return date as April 16. (The resolution does allow for an earlier assembly, but only if Reid and Pelosi agree on it.)

But Senate Republicans said their chief complaint is not that the House took two weeks off, but that they neglected to appoint conferees to the supplemental and that, simultaneously, Democratic leaders have been sending signals that they want to cut off funding for the troops.

“The House hasn’t appointed conferees and the Senate Democrat leader last week offered his support for legislation to halt troop funding. Congressional Democrats are either foot-dragging at best or purposefully delaying at worst, and Republicans are going to fight to get the funds to the front line,” said Ryan Loskarn, spokesman for Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.).

Loskarn was referring to Reid’s announcement last week that he would co-sponsor a Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) bill that essentially would cut off funds for the Iraq War by March 31, 2008.

But House and Senate Democratic aides dismissed the criticism, saying that informal discussions between the House and Senate Appropriations panels already have begun and that they will move quickly to finish the bill once the House returns next week — with the goal of having it on the president’s desk by the end of the month.

“Coming from Republicans — [who ran] the ‘do-nothing’ [109th] Congress with the fewest days in history of work — that’s laughable,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly, who noted that Republicans took nearly four months, compared with the Democrats’ current lag time of two months, to pass last year’s supplemental for the war.

Daly offered no explanation for why the House did not name conferees before leaving town. But he said Bush knew he would need this money “before Christmas” and should have sent it up prior to February or included it in his fiscal 2007 budget request.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley added that the Majority Leader’s co-sponsorship of the Feingold measure “is completely separate from what will happen on the supplemental. … We’re determined to move as quickly as possible” on providing the war funding.

Meanwhile, GOP aides hinted last week that Republicans might try to use Senate procedures to continue making an issue of the House’s absence from town this week. But it was unclear what, if anything, they could do.

Only the president officially can call the House back to town, and beyond asking him to use that power, Senate Republicans have only a few options for trying to keep the issue in the limelight. For example, they could offer a resolution asking the House to return or use procedural tactics to try to hold up action on other measures. This week’s action on a stem-cell research bill, however, would not be affected because the Senate already has agreed to the parameters of debate.

As the rhetoric heated up last week, the White House also released a flurry of letters to shore up its case that the military will suffer if money for the troops does not receive approval in a matter of weeks. Notably, the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote McConnell saying that without the funds, “in April, the Armed Services will be forced to take increasingly disruptive measures in order to sustain combat operations.”

But Manley cited a March 28 Congressional Research Service report that indicated the Army could operate with current funding until July.

“The administration, once again, has gone back to the oldest trick in the playbook, and they’re shifting their goal lines,” he said.

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