- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rep. David R. Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, yesterday threatened unilaterally to block President Bush’s $189 billion emergency war-funding bill to force a U.S. pullout from Iraq and called for levying a surtax to cover the war’s costs.

Mr. Obey, breaking with the Democratic leadership that has failed repeatedly to end the Iraq war, said unless Mr. Bush establishes a goal to abort combat operations in Iraq by January, he would act alone to cut off war spending.

“Future generations should not be saddled with paying for an ill-advised war in Iraq that seems to be never-ending,” said the Wisconsin Democrat, who could use his powerful post to lock up the funding bill in committee. “If this war is important enough to fight, then it ought to be important enough to pay for.”

The proposed income-tax surcharge — a progressive tax ranging from 2 percent to about 15 percent — would net $150 billion a year to cover the cost of the war in Iraq, said Mr. Obey.

The 4½ years of war has cost a total of about $450 billion.

Mr. Obey’s proposals did not target the war in Afghanistan, which he said was a justifiable war because the Taliban supported al Qaeda before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

“It is to draw a meaningful line in the sand,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat and an outspoken war critic. Mr. McGovern and Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, were at Mr. Obey’s side when he announced the surtax plan.

The tax plan got a cool reception from Democratic leaders in both chambers. But they were open to cutting off war funds, a politically dangerous stance gaining acceptance, especially in the Senate.

“Just as I have opposed the war from the outset, I am opposed to a draft, and I am opposed to a war surtax,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “The choice is between a Democratic plan for responsible redeployment of our troops and the president’s plan for a 10-year war in Iraq. We must end this war.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Mrs. Pelosi’s opposition to the tax was “good enough for me.” He said no other strategy to challenge war policy, including denying funds, is “off the table” as the Senate took up the defense appropriations bill yesterday and later with the emergency war-funding bill.

Republicans slammed the surtax proposal and plans to block war funds, which will run out next month.

“Raiding every taxpayer’s wallet for the purposes of playing politics with our national security amounts to one of the most irresponsible proposals I’ve seen in a long, long time,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

“First they fought to cut funding for our troops, and now they are proposing to cut extra funds from family budgets in order to advance their political agenda of higher taxes and more spending,” he said.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, said Mr. Obey’s threat to block war funds was “pretty gutsy.”

“But I don’t see how it would work,” he said. “In the end, you’ve got to feed the soldiers.”

The plan to starve the troops of funds would be “cheered by America’s enemies,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

“This would be a blessing to al Qaeda, which is getting its brains beat out [in Iraq],” Mr. Graham said.

At the White House, Mr. Bush met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The two talked about the need for Iraq’s parliament to pass key provisions that would hasten sectarian reconciliation.

Mr. Talabani assured Mr. Bush that “there was a good political environment right now for them to be able to move forward,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

Mrs. Perino defended the Iraqi parliament from charges that they have been making such statements for months, saying that “they’re starting to move forward.”

“I understand the frustration and the impatience. I think that they’re moving in the right direction,” said Mrs. Perino, though she did add that “if the laws don’t pass, I think the president would remain frustrated.”

House Democrats, frustrated by passing pullout legislation that dies in the Senate, yesterday turned to a war bill that didn’t mandate a troop withdrawal but instead would require the Pentagon to report on its redeployment plans.

The bill by Democratic Reps. John Tanner of Tennessee and Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii passed 377-46, with support from 196 Democrats and 181 Republicans.

Republicans said the bill, which antiwar Democrats rejected as too weak earlier this year, did not change the president’s war plan but highlights ongoing Pentagon planning for a gradual drawdown of troops.

“Hopefully, the Pentagon has contingency plans. We don’t know about those contingency plans,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

He said it was a “very significant” vote that sent a message to the president and provided Congress information necessary to plan an end to the war.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat and an Out of Iraq Caucus member, previously said the measure didn’t go far enough, but yesterday called it a “good step.”

“We are in the mix,” she said. “We are fighting to bring [the troops] home.”

Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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