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Obey Sets Conditions for Supplemental, Proposes Tax Hike

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) warned President Bush on Tuesday that he would bottle up a critical $190 billion war spending bill in his committee unless Bush agrees to a goal of ending combat operations in Iraq by January 2009 and other conditions.

“The president isn’t going to get a supplemental this year. The president sooner or later is going to need that supplemental,” Obey said, adding that Bush will have to change course before Obey will let it move.

Obey also announced his backing for a war surtax on income, ranging from 2 percent to 15 percent of every American’s tax bill, to raise about $150 billion a year to pay for the war.

“If you don’t like the cost, then shut down the war,” Obey said.

Obey’s plan, unveiled alongside Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), has not been endorsed by leadership, and it would not immediately cut funds off for the war. Murtha, the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said that enough funding for the war would be available in the regular Defense spending bill to keep the war going perhaps until March 2008.

Obey ripped Bush’s plan for a slow drawdown of the troop “surge” by the middle of next year as “simply a plan to punt the problem to his successor, ruining two administrations instead of one.”

At his pen-and-pad briefing Tuesday morning, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he doesn’t want the supplemental to be a “blank check” and noted a Washington Post poll showing a majority of the public wants the amount spent on the war reduced. “We’ll see what happens with that,” he said.

But Hoyer made clear that Obey’s plans were not yet those of the party.

“We’re going to discuss Mr. Obey’s proposal. … There’s been no decision on that.”

In addition to a January 2009 goal for ending combat operations, Obey also put two other conditions on moving a war bill — a plan to make sure that troops get adequate time off between deployments and a demonstration that the Bush administration will engage in a broad diplomatic offensive involving other countries in the Middle East.

But Obey later said he was flexible on the particulars.

“We want any kind of movement at this point from existing policy,” Obey said. “The White House needs to recognize that we’ve had it being maneuvered and jerked around on this issue.”

The tax proposal, meanwhile, appears aimed at raising awareness of the massive cost of the war and how it is pouring red ink on future generations.

“We need to stop pretending that this war doesn’t cost anything,” Obey said.

As to whether Obey’s gambit could work when all previous Democratic attempts at budging Bush and Republicans have failed, Obey said “I would always hope that the president would find the path to sweet reason.”

Murtha blamed Republicans for voting to keep the war going with no strings attached.

“This is no longer President Bush’s war, it’s a Republican war,” Murtha said.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.

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