- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

Administration officials yesterday told a Senate panel that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan would cost $189 billion in 2008, a spending request that Democrats eyed for their next challenge to President Bush”s war policy.

The request is more than double the $90 billion war supplemental for fiscal 2007 that the Democrat-led Congress begrudgingly approved in May after a monthslong standoff with the White House.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, urged the Democrat-led Congress to approve the request “as quickly as possible and without excessive and counterproductive restrictions.”

Senate Democrats, who this month failed repeatedly to legislate a U.S. pullout from Iraq in the 2008 Defense authorization bill, vowed that the war-spending bill will not be a blank check.

“This committee will not rubber-stamp every request that is submitted by the president,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The pressure on Democrats from their antiwar base was evident at the hearing, which was repeatedly disrupted by members of the feminist antiwar group Code Pink. When outgoing Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace repeated his religious opposition to homosexuality, they began shouting “bigot” and Mr. Byrd ordered police to clear the room.

A growing bloc of Democrats are willing to make the politically risky move to cut off or restrict war funds to force a pullout from Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois were among 28 Democrats last week to support a failed bid to restrict war funds in the defense bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who also voted for the funding restriction last week, told Mr. Gates that she voted for past war supplementals to show support for troops but was losing patience with the 4½-year-old Iraq war.

“I think a long-term commitment is something that is very questionable for a lot of us,” she said.

Mr. Gates assured her that the president”s plan to start a limited withdrawal from Iraq by Christmas and reduce the force from 160,000 troops to about 130,000 troops by summer would put the U.S. “on a path toward a smaller presence.”

Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte addressed the Iraqi governments” failure at national reconciliation, a chief criticism from Democrats who say the U.S. is mired in Iraq”s civil war. He said the Iraqis were making halting progress.

“Yes, it is hard work, but I don”t think it is hopeless,” he told the panel.

The new supplemental bill, if approved, would boost the total cost of the war to about $650 billion.

The Senate, spurred by concern over failures of Iraqi”s fledgling government, yesterday overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding resolution calling for separating Iraq”s warring sects into Kurdish, Sunni and Shi”ite regions under a weak federal government.

The bill, an amendment to the $648 billion Defense authorization bill, passed 75-23.

“For the first time in 4½ years in the war in Iraq, you have an overwhelmingly bipartisan consensus as to a recommendation to the president on how to proceed. That, in and of itself, is a big deal,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Both men are seeking their party”s nomination for president.

The measure also calls for the United Nations to convene an international conference to address Iraq stability.

Sen. Orin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who voted for the resolution, said he expected that the vote “will be blown out of proportion” by war opponents.

“There is nothing wrong with suggesting federalism,” Mr. Hatch said. “They can consider it if they want to.”

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, who supported the resolution, said its success likely marked the end of troop-withdrawal legislation on the defense bill.

“We are not simply going to sit on the sidelines, but for this time, with this bill, I do not foresee anything” contrary to “the president”s constitutional rights to determine the mission,” Mr. Warner said at a bipartisan press conference after the vote.

“The president must decide the military mission,” he said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat at the press conference, quickly interjected that “Senator Byrd has a very different view of this. … I wanted to make sure that was understood.”

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