Friday, April 27, 2007

Next Round Of Iraq Spending Negotiations Underway

After President Bush vetoes the Iraq war supplemental over his objections to restrictions on his conduct of the war, a second bill will be presented absent some of the provisions of the first.

Details of the legislation to follow is beginning to leak from the hill.

The provision most likely to survive the next round is a set of political and diplomatic benchmarks for the Iraqi government. The language all but certain to be dropped, or at least diluted, would require troop withdrawals to begin as early as July 1 and no later than Oct. 1. ...

A significant number of Republicans support the benchmarks -- possibly enough to override a second veto, should Bush resort to that. The measures would prod Baghdad officials to build up military forces, crack down on militias and sectarian violence, protect minority rights and manage Iraq's extensive petroleum reserves. ...

As the second phase of the spending debate unfolds, antiwar lawmakers are pressuring Democratic leaders to seek the most stringent terms possible. One idea is to pass a shorter-term funding bill -- possibly in the $30 billion to $40 billion range -- that would allow Congress to revisit the war in several months.

One champion of this approach is Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a senior appropriator with strong military ties, who has emerged as one of Bush's strongest critics. Murtha is advocating a 60-day bill that would provide enough funds for operations, maintenance and personnel while carrying the current legislation's provisions on benchmarks and readiness standards for deploying troops.

Senate Democrats worry that a shorter duration would be impractical. But yesterday, Reid confirmed that it was in the mix. "We have a lot of things we'll look at -- that's one of the things," he said.

Democratic leaders expect the negotiations on a new bill to run at least through mid-May. Although Bush has demanded the money as soon as possible, a report last month from the Congressional Research Service found that the Army has adequate funding to carry it through the end of July.

Under other alternatives, the toughest provisions of the war funding bill would shift to a defense policy bill that will come before the House next month, or would be broken out and beefed up in a separate bill in coming weeks.

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