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Deals Elusive in Iraq Debate

Democrats continue to talk tough against handing President Bush a “blank check” to keep the war going in Iraq, while trading blame with the White House over who is at fault for a looming cash crunch at the Pentagon.

Appealing to their anti-war base, Democrats say they will hang firm for now against additional war funding that doesn’t include a goal for withdrawing troops by Christmas 2008. But they have continued to provide money through the back door that will keep the war going for months, and they promise that in the end the troops will get whatever they need.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) sought to turn the tables last week on the White House, arguing that Republicans — not Democrats — are blocking funding for the war. Republican Senators are filibustering a $50 billion war bill that Bush has threatened to veto because it includes a goal of withdrawing troops by next December as well as troop readiness and anti-torture provisions.

“If the president wants that $50 billion released, all he has to do is to call the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and ask him to stop blocking it,” Obey said.

Obey reiterated that he has no intention of bringing up a bill funding the Iraq War that does not also include a goal for getting troops out of Iraq by Christmas 2008.

But Obey acknowledged that House leaders could provide the funding without his consent, and Republicans could bring up the funding as well if they have the votes.

Furthermore, Democrats already have funded the war for months through other channels. The recently adopted Defense appropriations bill allows the president to redirect money from regular base accounts to the war. Democrats also have approved nearly $17 billion in additional funding for mine-resistant vehicles for Iraq in the past two months.

A crunch would hit early next year when regular base accounts start to run dry, with administration officials warning of base closures and layoffs of thousands of employees if they do not receive a fresh injection of cash.

“Delays in funding mean that the Army and Marine Corps are immediately forced to begin shifting funds between accounts in order to keep operations running, and the Pentagon will soon be forced to send furlough notices for as many as 100,000 Army and Marine Corps civilian employees at bases around the country,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said.

But Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) said last week that the Defense Department should be able to continue funding the war until March. Obey and Murtha ripped Pentagon warnings of accounting nightmares before then as “political.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also sought to pin the blame on the elephant party: “Democrats and the American people support our troops in the field and will always insist they receive all the resources they require,” she said in a statement last week. “If there is any delay in funding for our men and women in uniform, the responsibility will squarely lie with the president and Senate Republicans who are blocking the bill.”

Murtha, meanwhile, blamed Bush for diverting regular Defense funds, although the Democratic-drafted law allows him to do so.

“In threatening another veto and electing to divert funds away from our military at home, the administration found yet another way to thwart the will of the American people, who support our military but want to end this war,” Murtha said.

“Instead of taking from vital base accounts that truly do support our troops and families, I urge the president to promptly work with Congress on the passage of a House war funding bill.”

Murtha called the warnings of cuts to base programs “despicable” and intended to scare the families of troops.

But Republicans charged that Democrats were the ones using troops as a political football.

“Timetables for withdrawal, efforts to hamstring our generals and attempts to cut off funding for our troops failed when Congress tried them earlier this year, and they will fail again,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “By undermining our troops’ progress in this way, Congress risks having al-Qaida stand back up.”

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