Iraq Bill Becomes a Battle

Posted April 23, 2008 at 6:43pm

As their leaders continued to meet behind closed doors this week, House Democrats appear to be divided and in disarray over how to advance the Iraq supplemental spending bill and whether to include costly domestic spending priorities.

The only tangible details that have emerged from a flurry of leadership meetings have come from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who continues to insist that Democratic leaders are on track for bringing a supplemental bill to the floor late next week or the following week.

Members still can’t agree on “what to put in it,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said. “It’s still in flux.”

One of the biggest problems for Democrats may be with the staunchly anti-war Out of Iraq Caucus. In an unusual move, some members of the caucus –– including co-chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) –– are joining with House Republicans to decry adding domestic spending to the war bill.

The 74 members of the group, which advocates the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, are fiercely opposed to providing any new money for the war that isn’t tied to a policy change in Iraq, such as linking funding to troop withdrawals. One aide to a caucus member said there was growing concern that Democratic leaders would attempt to use the stimulus to lure anti-war lawmakers.

On the other side of the equation are fiscally conscious Blue Dog Democrats who don’t want to see the supplemental balloon with domestic money.

“The Blue Dogs versus the liberals,” said one aide to an anti-war lawmaker. “That’s certainly part of it.

“It’s a horrible position for leadership to be in.”

Hoyer has signaled that Democrats are preparing a bill that will exceed President Bush’s $108 billion request for emergency funding of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will likely spark a presidential veto.

Asked Wednesday about the bill’s price tag surpassing Bush’s request, Hoyer said, “I’m sure it will.”

Hoyer did not elaborate on how much money in domestic spending Democrats are mulling attaching to the measure, saying only that they are still in discussions.

Another provision “certainly under consideration” is including funds for military operations for 2008 and part of 2009, Hoyer said. The move would allow lawmakers to keep the war funded into the next president’s term.

The Majority Leader has also said some portion of the war bill will address domestic issues. In addition, Hoyer hinted that the measure could be followed by a second economic stimulus package being worked on now by Democrats.

But those are the only concrete details that Democrats are offering about a key measure that has powerful political implications during an election year.

After a series of meetings this week, House Democratic leaders are staying tight-lipped on their plan for proceeding, if there is one yet.

Emerging from a bicameral Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said there’s a “lot of consternation” over how to pay for provisions in the bill.

“We have very little money and the Speaker understands that,” Slaughter said. “We have to figure out how to pay for it, for everything.”

Hoyer declined to answer a specific question about whether the controversial supplemental will bypass the committee markup and head directly to the House floor.

“We’re going to see something,” was all Hoyer said when asked that question.

Part of the problem is that two key factions within the Democratic Caucus seem at odds over how the final package should be shaped.

One of the major concerns for the more conservative Democrats who form the Blue Dog Coalition, for instance, is the bill’s ultimate price tag and the fact that it does not have to abide by pay-as-you-go spending rules.

Blue Dog leaders will get their first shot at potentially discussing the supplemental with party leaders Thursday, when they meet with Hoyer, House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to discuss a compromise on a separate matter, the pending budget resolution.

A spokeswoman for the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, which is composed of 48 Democrats, said the group has yet to be a part of negotiations.

“Just because there’s no PAYGO doesn’t mean they’re okay with a bunch of domestic spending items,” the spokeswoman said.

For one, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), a Blue Dog and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is still “weighing the pros and cons” of what she would support in the bill, according to her spokesman, CJ Karamargin.

There is growing anxiety within the Out of Iraq Caucus that Democratic leaders are planning to move quickly to “put forward a weak supplemental,” or one without a change in war policy, and then “use the stimulus as a bargaining chip” to try to get their support for the supplemental, according to an aide to one of the caucus leaders.

Most caucus members “can only support a bill with troop withdrawal language,” the aide said.

“Above all, we’re just very anxious to find out what’s going on,” the aide said.