House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday delayed appointing lawmakers to finish a war-funding bill, putting off the emergency legislation for the second day since returning from the House’s two-week spring break.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, did not name conferees Monday because severe storms slowed some East Coast lawmakers’ returns to Washington and because some lawmakers attended Virginia Tech services for the shooting victims, her office said.
“We need the conferees in order to make progress on the bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will join Mrs. Pelosi and other congressional leaders at a White House meeting with President Bush today.
Patience also wore thin among Senate Democrats assigned two weeks ago to the conference committee that will reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the $100 billion bill.
“We are going to be talking about that and trying to put some pressure on bringing that [conference committee] about,” Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat and member of the conference committee, said on his way to the party’s weekly policy luncheon.
“I’m hoping we can do that sooner because it is something that we need to decide,” said Mr. Inouye, chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee.
Mr. Bush — who has vowed to veto legislation that ties the funding to troop-withdrawal timetables for Iraq — and Republican leaders previously criticized Mrs. Pelosi’s decision to leave March 29 for a two-week spring break and a trip to Syria without appointing members to the conference committee.
The president says he is eager to veto the measure if it contains troop-withdrawal deadlines so negotiations can start anew for a “clean” war-funding bill.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said stalling the spending bill for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was “more tactical than substantive.”
He declined to elaborate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday said that he expected to deliver a finished bill to Mr. Bush early next week.
“My goal is to get a conference report to the president as soon as possible,” the Nevada Democrat said.
Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and a conferee, said the progress of the committee was at the mercy of Mrs. Pelosi.
“We are waiting for the House to tell us what their next move is,” she said, adding that Senate Democrats aimed to keep their pullout timetable in the final bill.
The Senate bill calls for most troops to leave Iraq by March 31, while the House legislation sets a September 2008 withdrawal deadline.
Both bills contain about $20 billion in nonmilitary spending, including pork-barrel projects that lured support from some skeptical lawmakers, bringing the Senate bill to $123 billion and the House version to $124 billion.
The standoff threatens to stall war funds, even as the Pentagon said money started to run out this week. Mr. Bush says it undermines the war effort, but Democrats say troops need to exit Iraq’s “civil war.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have suggested replacing pullout deadlines with benchmarks for progress in Iraq, but the Democratic leadership says it will keep pushing for an exit date.