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The Next Iraq Supplemental

2:55 PM, May 2, 2007 • By BRIAN FAUGHNAN
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With the president's veto of the Surrender in Iraq Act, (and the failure by the House to override the veto) Congress can now get to work on a funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Associated Press describes the conundrum in which the Democrats now find themselves, capturing the main question of the next month nicely:

The key impasse in Congress is whether to require redeployments of U.S. troops if the benchmarks are not met. Many Democrats insist on it, and many Republicans vow not to budge.

The president won't sign a bill that contains a firm deadline for troop withdrawals--even if those withdrawals are only triggered by the failure to achieve certain benchmarks. He will argue--rightly--that any such mandates hamper the effort to fight the war on the ground and impinge on his prerogatives as Commander in Chief. Yet such provisions would constitute the bare minimum that many liberal Democrats will require in exchange for their support the legislation. So if Democrats try to go without GOP support, they would be pursuing a very high-stakes confrontation with the president.

Therefore, Democratic leaders are likely to do what they have been signaling: win over some Republican support for benchmarks, creating a bipartisan majority to deliver the bill to the president's desk. The big question is to what degree such benchmarks will be mere guidelines, and to what extent they will be mandatory.

If Democratic leaders play their cards right, there's a surprising range of Republicans willing to discuss goals 'with consequences.' Roll Call notes that Trent Lott, Olympia Snowe, Adam Putnam, and Roy Blunt are all among those that have endorsed the concept:

...Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) is working on a plan with an as-of-yet-unnamed Democratic lawmaker. Snowe's plan would include a set of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet and a set of consequences if they failed to meet them. Although Snowe has declined to discuss the specifics of her proposal - or to say who she is working with - her plan is expected to include triggers to withhold aid to Iraq if benchmarks are not met...

After House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) supported the idea of a "consequences package" for the Iraqis last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the idea...

Putnam said reconstruction money could be tied to the benchmarks.

"There's substantial assistance that is going in there that is nonmilitary, that is helping the redevelopment," Putnam said...

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said he favors binding benchmarks on the Iraqis. "I think the fewer strings we put on our troops and generals the better, the more we put on the Iraqis the better..."

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said that the issue could be resolved quickly providing that both sides were willing to compromise.

"This is not even an hour-long problem," Lott said. "Folks have got to be willing to engage." Lott also said that he could be open to backing benchmarks with consequences, depending on how each are tailored...

This sheds more light on the nature of the battle: Democrats want triggers for reducing military commitments; some Republicans are willing to talk about cutting off political and reconstruction aid.

Missing from the Roll Call piece is any comment from House Minority Leader Boehner, who continues to push hard for a clean funding bill. Boehner is important not just because he's the GOP leader and will influence how many Republicans are willing to work with the Democrats, but also because he introduced a bill some time ago that has been cited as a possible preview of the guidelines the president might ultimately embrace. It's worth noting that Boehner's bill isn't really about gauging progress on benchmarks, it's more about requiring the administration to report regularly on how it views the progress on key questions.