WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush's request for nearly $200 billion more to fund the Iraq war will not be approved unless it is linked to a plan to bring home U.S. combat troops by January 2009, the head of the House appropriations committee said on Tuesday.
Rep. David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, told a news conference his panel would not even consider the war funding request until early 2008, by which time he estimates funding for military operations will have run out. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently outlined the request to Congress.
Obey said he and other Democrats also would introduce a surtax to pay for the war in Iraq, although he acknowledged he did not expect the House Democratic leadership to support a tax hike plan.
"As chairman of the appropriations committee, I have no intention of reporting out of committee any time in this session of Congress any such (war funding) request that simply serves to continue the status quo," Obey told reporters.
Only about 25 percent of Americans support the administration's $190 billion war funding request, while about 70 percent want the proposed allocation reduced, a Washington Post-ABC News poll published on Tuesday said.
Obey said he would be more willing to consider the money request if it would also "establish as a goal the end of U.S. involvement in combat operations by January of 2009." That is when the next U.S. president would succeed Bush, who is not allowed to run for a third, four-year term.
WAR SURTAX PLAN
Democrats, who have majorities in both houses of Congress, have repeatedly tried but failed to force the Bush administration to bring U.S. troops home from the Iraq war, which began in March 2003. While the House has approved demands for troops to come home, the more narrowly divided Senate has gridlocked over the issue.
Gates last week said the administration's new war funding request would be about $189 billion. That would be in addition to about $600 billion already approved for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obey, who was accompanied by Democratic Reps. John Murtha of Pennsylvania and James McGovern of Massachusetts, said they did not intend to agree to a policy that amounted to borrowing ever more money for the war "with no change in sight."
Therefore, he said, they would introduce legislation for a war surtax.
"If the president really is concerned about stopping red ink, we are prepared to introduce legislation which will provide for a war surtax for that portion of military costs that are related to our military actions in Iraq," Obey said.
The surtax plan was still being drafted, but it would range from about 2 percent to 15 percent of an individual's tax burden, depending on their income, he said.
"If the war is important enough to fight, then it ought to be important enough to pay for," Obey said.
Murtha, a former Marine who is chairman of the subcommittee overseeing war funds, said top U.S. military officials have begun quietly clamoring for a change in war policy because of the strain years of combat operations have put on the armed forces.
"This is going to change dramatically," he told reporters.
© 2007 Reuters