WASHINGTON -- The confrontation between Congress and President Bush over the Iraq war will enter its next phase Thursday, when the House plans to vote on the Democratic leadership's new plan to put war spending on a strict, almost month-by-month diet.
The White House indicated strongly Tuesday that Bush would veto such a bill, just as he did an earlier version of the war spending bill that required U.S. troops to begin to withdraw from Iraq later this year.
The House bill would give Bush $30.4 billion to pay for the Iraq war over the next two months but would require another vote in late July before Congress would provide another $53 billion to pay for the war through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
The legislation is likely to face near-unanimous Republican opposition in the House and Senate -- as did the $124 billion emergency war spending plan passed by Congress and vetoed last week by Bush.
The new approach formulated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top deputies also has been assailed by a coalition of anti-war groups, which wants the Democrats who control the House and Senate to stand up to Bush and end the war as soon as possible, even in the face of presidential vetoes.
House Democrats said they are well aware of the conflicting pressures -- from their party base, which wants them to end the war, from their own members not to cut off funds for troops in the field and from the public's expectation that they will assume a role as a stable governing force in Washington.
They also are aware, given recent comments by GOP leaders that Bush has only until late summer to show progress in Iraq before his support within the party folds, that time might be on their side.
"There isn't a member across the spectrum, ideologically or geographically, who isn't getting pressure from constituents. They want to see a Congress that will bring change in Iraq policy,'' said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., who chairs the House Democratic Caucus.
The latest plan emerged as the Pentagon notified more than 35,000 troops to prepare to deploy to Iraq beginning this fall, a move that would allow commanders to maintain the president's policy of building up troop levels through the end of the year if needed.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said her constituents aren't as concerned about the details of legislation as with the fact that Congress is confronting Bush, who has argued that the Democratic plan to create a timeline for withdrawal would constitute a surrender to terrorism and would impinge on his powers as commander in chief.
"People are grateful to us for standing up and trying to get something done,'' Lofgren said. "People care deeply. They burst into tears in the vegetable aisle'' at the grocery store when they talk to her about the war.
Pelosi said House Democrats have talked to the White House but wouldn't concede and send Bush a spending bill with no restrictions. The new proposal drops the deadlines for troop withdrawals but requires the president to report to Congress on whether the Iraqi government is meeting goals to secure peace, stability and political reconciliation.
"We're the Congress of the United States. When we're talking to the White House about something, they're talking for one person. We're talking for many people we have to bring together on an issue,'' she said.
Pelosi -- who so far has managed to hold together House Democrats through the twists and turns of months of debate on the war -- again will have to persuade the most ardent anti-war Democrats to stay with her in Thursday's vote.
Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., said the new bill is a major letdown and that he might not be able to support it. He had voted for previous versions.
"If it doesn't have the withdrawal timelines, I don't like it. That was the only reason I voted for it in the first place,'' Clay said.
"What are we going to do, except give in a little bit more to the president? He vetoed the bill. That was his intention. Now it's time for us to follow through on our intention'' and keep withdrawal language, he said.
Last Thursday, a coalition of 20 anti-war groups wrote Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to tell them Democrats should not give in to Bush by dropping a withdrawal timeline from the spending bill.
David Swanson, a representative of two of those groups, Democrats.com and Afterdowningstreet.org, said the new bill is unacceptable.
"The peace movement does not support further funding of this war and even more so does not support funding the war without a deadline to end it,'' he said.
At the White House, Bush spokesman Tony Snow stopped just short of saying Bush would veto the new House bill if it reached him. Instead, he panned the bill as "just bad management.''
"We think it is appropriate to be able to give commanders what they are going to need, and also forces in the field, so that you can make long-term decisions in trying to build the mission," Snow said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also slammed the proposal. "I don't think there'll be much, if any, Republican support for a bifurcated supplemental appropriation for the troops,'' he said.
War spending plans
After President Bush's veto last week of the $124 billion emergency spending bill, House Democrats have responded with a new plan to pay for the Iraq war through the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30
The new plan splits the original legislation into two parts and drops a requirement to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq:
The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill that would provide at least $83.4 billion for the war in Iraq through September and more than $20 billion more for operations in Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina relief, medical coverage for poor children and veterans and an increase in the federal minimum wage.
About $30.4 billion of the Iraq war money would be released immediately, but the rest would be held back. The proposal would require the president to report to Congress by July 13 about whether the Iraqi government has made progress on such items as sharing oil revenues and other political power. Congress would have to vote again to release the remaining money.
On Friday, the House is scheduled to vote on billions in emergency farm aid that were included in the original legislation. The aid package includes farm drought relief in the Midwest, $60 million for Klamath River salmon fishermen and other items.
Democratic leaders expect to debate the plan for troop withdrawals again as part of bills now moving through committees that would authorize and spend the money for 2008 Pentagon operations, including the war.
Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle