WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives is expected to vote as soon as Thursday on a new Democratic plan to release only about half of the funds that President Bush requested for the war in Iraq, enough to last through July.
Congress would vote again in mid-July on whether to release the rest, enough to last through September, based on whether Iraq's government has made progress toward national reconciliation.
The new version, unlike the one Bush vetoed last week, contains no date for a U.S. withdrawal to begin, but it isn't the no-strings version that Bush wanted. Congress would vote in July on whether to continue backing the president's troop "surge" plan or use the remaining funds to begin withdrawing troops.
The White House criticized the new House plan, but stopped short of threatening a veto. House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio denounced it, calling it "rationing" funds for the troops.
Boehner said over the weekend that congressional Republicans would want to know if the Iraq strategy was working by September or October, after a report from Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq. "And if it isn't, what's Plan B," Boehner said. Other Republicans increasingly are saying the same thing.
"I am glad to hear them move toward our view. But we can't wait until fall," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
Some Senate Democrats don't approve of a two-stage approval of the war funds. The Senate has been letting the House go first before drafting its new war-spending bill. The two versions must be reconciled before being sent to the president for his signature or veto.
Congressional Democrats have met with White House representatives in search of compromise terms on Iraq, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made clear that they weren't prepared to yield to Bush.
"I said we had a responsibility to the American people to try to find our common ground. Where we didn't find our common ground, we would stand our ground," she said.
Under the House plan, the July vote would follow a July 13 administration report on how well Iraq is doing on meeting certain benchmarks of progress. The benchmarks include plans to bring more Sunnis into the Shiite-dominated government and distribute oil revenues among all main ethnic groups. Democrats also are seeking reports on how many Iraqi military units are "mission capable."
Bush requested $95.6 billion for the Department of Defense, mainly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2007.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., who led the writing of the bill as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the new plan would release $42.8 billion immediately. The July vote on whether to release the remaining $52.8 billion would take place 10 days after the president's report.
Details could change as Democrats consult further, said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Tuesday that the House Democrats' new approach would interfere with Petraeus' ability to execute his plan, but he ducked giving a firm answer when asked if Bush would veto the bill.
Snow said the surge was in its "middle stages" and that Iraqis were playing a greater role in providing security. "So let's see how these things do play out between now and the fall," Snow said.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said the new plan would require that the Pentagon meet standards for rest between deployments, length of deployments and adequate equipment, but that the president could waive the requirements.
Also included would be funds for recovery from Hurricane Katrina, homeland security and preparation for a potential avian flu epidemic.
On Wednesday, House Republican leaders and two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, plan to accept a petition signed by more than 2,700 U.S. service members calling on Congress to "fully support our mission in Iraq and halt any calls for retreat."
The petition also says that "the war in Iraq is a necessary and just effort to bring freedom to the Middle East and protect America from further attack."
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.