A Big Fight on the Hill
Last week's House battle over Iraq is just the first of many
Democratic activists are rallying behind the strategy as an alternative to other attempts that urge immediate withdrawal or attempt to cut off all funds. By attaching the conditions to the supplemental bill that must pass in order to finance the troops, the thinking goes, Murtha is making it more difficult politically for Republicans to oppose. "The Republicans are going to be in a box," says former Rep. Tom Andrews, a leading Democratic strategist behind the effort, which will also include a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign financed partly by the liberal group Moveon.org. But Democrats are also wary of being maligned for cutting off funding for troops and siding too much with the antiwar wing of the party. According to a recent Associated Press/Ipsos poll, more than half of the public thinks the war is a hopeless cause, but fewer than 30 percent of Americans want to cut off all funding, and fewer than 40 percent want to cut funding for the president's plan. Republicans face their own set of vexing political calculations: ensuring that the troops are funded while maintaining political cover on Iraq.
Options. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is reportedly supporting some of the Murtha plan, but Democratic leaders haven't yet lined up behind the plan formally and say they're still reviewing many different options. The results of the budget process won't be seen for months, considering that any binding law would have to pass the House and the Senate. "It's pretty clear none of these are going to be passed through the House and Senate in the short term," says a top Democratic strategist. For the past two years, it took the Republican-led Congress until May or June to enact similar bills, and those carried no such conditions.
By that time this year, the situation in Iraq and public support for the president's policy may have changed considerably. Indeed, experts expect the budget tug of war to be a long, drawn-out process. Scott Lilly, a fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress and longtime top aide to Democratic appropriators, says by the time any supplemental bill is passed, the president's surge may have been implemented. "This supplemental process needs to be looked at as a battle and not a war," he says. "What this is all about is touching the gloves between Congress and the White House." For the fighters in both corners, there are many rounds left to go.
With Danielle Knight and Kenneth T. Walsh