Reid Eyes Add-ons To Iraq Bill

Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:55pm

The Iraq War took center stage Tuesday on Capitol Hill, but even as the TV lights shined on Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and three presidential candidates, Senate Democratic leaders were pondering how to move the spotlight back to the domestic agenda.

With options for legislative vehicles quickly dwindling, Senate Democrats are discussing a number of possible domestic policy and spending additions to the Iraq War supplemental expected to move this month, as well as the now-standard message amendments aimed at bringing the conflict to a close.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) acknowledged Tuesday that he and other Democratic leaders have discussed a variety of options.

“We’re going to look at the supplemental not only for the war funding, which is about $109 billion, but also what we can do on this bill for summer jobs programs, extending unemployment benefits, some things that would be stimulative to the economy,” Reid said.

Reid’s comments came as Petraeus and Crocker delivered their long-awaited report to Congress on the progress of President Bush’s troop surge in Iraq before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees — and fielded questions from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who serve on Armed Services, and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) who serves on Foreign Relations.

Democrats pressed Petraeus to estimate when troops could finally begin coming home. Petraeus told lawmakers that he would put a 45-day pause on further troop drawdowns after July, when troops would reach pre-surge levels.

Reid told reporters he planned to meet with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday evening to discuss how Democrats should proceed with Iraq amendments on both the supplemental and the annual defense authorization bill.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans were highly critical of the idea of adding extraneous spending measures to the war supplemental bill. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) called the plan “blackmail,” arguing that Democrats are looking to use troop funding as a bargaining chip to get the GOP and Bush to agree to new domestic spending measures.

“To say we will not approve funding for the troops unless you add money for things we want to spend it on, I think presents [Democratic priorities] in a very bad light,” Kyl said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the Bush administration’s top allies in the Senate on Iraq, agreed, charging that Democrats should be wary of “junking up” the spending bill. “The more you junk it up the less and less it looks like a bona fide way to help stimulate the economy and more like a way to help your special-interest friends,” Cornyn said.

But Reid said he would not simply sign off on Bush’s request for war funding.

“Well, there [have] been efforts by the White House to have his — $5,000 a second is what we’re spending in Iraq — $5,000-a-second [supplemental] approved; just sign off on it. I, for one, do not feel that we should agree to $5,000 a second just in a perfunctory fashion. I think that we have some work to do on that,” Reid said.

Senate Democratic leadership aides said Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have focused most of their discussions on attaching provisions to the supplemental that were part of Democrats’ original economic stimulus package.

One senior leadership aide said Reid’s leadership team has met with “all relevant members” of the Conference — including members of the Appropriations Committee and critics of the war like Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), as well as the party’s two presidential hopefuls Obama and Clinton. “It’s really a caucus-wide discussion,” the aide said.

Although it remains unclear what, exactly, the Iraq-related amendments will look like, a spokesman for Reid acknowledged that there will be a vote of some kind on a timeline for withdrawal. “There will be timelines,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. Democratic aides also said that in addition to Feingold and Levin amendments, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) is expected to offer a version of his troop readiness amendment.

Cornyn and other Republicans said their Conference will oppose adding any new spending to the bill, as well as Democrats’ Iraq-related message amendments. However, privately Republicans acknowledged that if this appears to be one of the last legislative vehicles this year, Republican lawmakers could look to add their own provisions in the waning days of the debate on the war supplemental.