- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008


The leaders of a House panel that oversees military spending said yesterday they are drafting legislation that would pay for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the rest of the year.

Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, predicted that the proposal would be completed by the end of the month.

Mr. Murtha and his Republican counterpart on the panel, Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida, said they hope lawmakers can put aside their differences on the war and focus on taking care of the troops.

“Our troops deserve better and I would hope that we can work together,” Mr. Murtha told senior defense officials testifying before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said such a bill would be helpful because of the Pentagon’s need to plan ahead.

“This delay is degrading our ability to operate and sustain the force at home and in theater, and it is making it difficult to manage this department in a way that is fiscally sound,” Mr. England said.

President Bush has requested about $189 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the 2008 budget year, which began Oct. 1. Congress has approved about $87 billion, leaving the Defense Department $102.5 billion short.

Democratic leaders have said the military has enough money to last through April. They also suggested that they want to hear first from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, before approving more money. Gen. Petraeus is expected to testify by mid-April.

Mr. Murtha told reporters last week that while the legislation would give the military the money it needs, he will recommend that it demand troops leave Iraq by the end of the year, a showstopper for the Bush administration. Mr. Murtha said he will ask for other conditions, such as full training and equipment for all deploying troops.

Similar bills scraped by on party line votes in the House last year only to fail in the Senate, where Democrats hold a more narrow margin of control and 60 votes are needed to overcome procedural hurdles. Unable to override a veto with the needed two-thirds majority, Democrats have been forced to strip antiwar language from past spending bills.

Mr. England testified in place of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who broke his right shoulder in a fall on an icy step at his home in Washington and was being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Despite the apparent bipartisan support afforded Mr. England, frustration over Iraq erupted in House and Senate foreign affairs committees where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was assailed by Democratic lawmakers.

In heated exchanges, Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, took Miss Rice to task for the enormous cost of the war, problems with the construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and her role in the run-up to the conflict while she was Mr. Bush’s national security adviser.

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