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On Iraq Bill, More Questions Than Answers

What will likely be the last major showdown over Iraq between the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress is nearly upon us, and the shape of the battle to come remains decidedly unclear.

Next week or the week after, Democratic leaders hope to bring to the House floor a supplemental spending bill to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure will likely include enough money -- perhaps $170 billion -- to get the military through early 2009, meaning that the next big war invoice would hit the desk of President Clinton, McCain or Obama (or Paul, or this guy).

That much about the supplemental bill is clear. So what's left to figure out? "The only thing we're doing at this point in time is to try and decide what should be in it," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday.

Okay, so we know there will be a bill; it's just that "what's in it" thing that needs to be fleshed out. At this point, Democrats appear determined to add funding for domestic projects on top of the military funding, despite repeated threats from President Bush that he will veto any measure that includes non-military money or exceeds his $108 billion request.

"The Constitution continues to say that the Congress is in charge of making policy," Hoyer said. "The administration is in denial on that issue. It has been for the last seven years."

Based on comments from various Democrats, the domestic piece of the pie could include money for new veterans' benefits, law enforcement, infrastructure and any number of pet items that members consider to be an "emergency." And because it will have that "emergency" designation, money in the upcoming supplemental will not have to adhere to caps on discretionary spending and will not have to comport with Democrats' much-ballyhooed "pay-as-you-go" rules, which require any new spending increases or tax cuts to be offset with corresponding spending cuts or tax increases.

That budgetary trick disturbs many Republicans, and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) predicted that the GOP would back up Bush if he chooses to veto the bill -- even if it contains politically popular items. "As long as the president's willing to sustain that [threat], we're willing to sustain him," Blunt said.

But this is an election year, after all. Would Bush really veto a bill that has billions for the troops AND money for law enforcement and veterans? Would vulnerable Republicans really vote to sustain a veto? Or would there be enough GOP defectors to get to 290 votes in the House and 67 in the Senate?

And those questions are entirely separate from Iraq-related ones, particularly whether Democrats will put any restrictions on the money, and whether liberal members will vote for a package that doesn't call for the troops to come home. We'll begin to know all those answers either next week or the first week in May, right after we find out the answer to that big question -- what's in the bill.

By Ben Pershing  |  April 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Branch vs. Branch , Dem. Leaders , Iraq  
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