Thursday, May 03, 2007

The second war-funding bill

Outlines and trial balloons have begun appearing as the White House -- represented by three senior aides -- and Congress begin negotiating a compromise following Tuesday's veto of the previous bill.

Democrats started out, unsurprisingly, by dropping the timetables that most irked President Bush. But other options are being considered.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) indicated that the next bill will include benchmarks for Iraq -- such as passing a law to share oil revenue, quelling religious violence and disarming sectarian militias -- to keep its government on course. Failure to meet benchmarks could cost Baghdad billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid, and the administration would be required to report to Congress every 30 days on the military and political situation in Iraq.

There's bipartisan backing for something along those lines, even among Republicans who voted against the first bill.

By the way, you've got to love the White House response: They're okay with benchmarks, as long as there are no penalties for missing them -- only rewards for meeting them. Once again, the administration demonstrates its congenital opposition to even the most rudimentary forms of accountability.

I'm all for positive reinforcement. But given that we're already pouring money and blood into Iraq, there has to be some negative reinforcement as well. Otherwise the Iraqi government can do absolutely nothing and nothing happens: They still get the money and blood.

I really wish the world worked the way Bush thinks it does. "If you run this business well and make it successful, you'll get a $10 million bonus! If you run it into the ground, you'll have to make do on your $2 million salary."

Anyway, that wish won't fly in Congress. Hard benchmarks apparently have the support of large numbers of moderates in both parties, enough to make up for the most liberal members who will oppose the new bill on the grounds that it doesn't go far enough.

Also under consideration is the proposal I predicted: a measure to fund the war through July or so, but cut off funding unless benchmarks are met. The Senate supports funding through September, but the basic idea is the same: a short-term funding bill now, and a long-term bill in the fall only if we see progress from both the surge and the Iraqi government.

It'll be interesting to see what Bush's reaction will be to either proposal. But I like the Democratic options. I'm okay with hard benchmarks, funding only through September, or a combination of the above. And I hope they keep the waivable readiness requirements for our troops. The more they make Bush face up to the damage being done by the war, and the lack of progress therein, the better.

And if Bush actually pulls this off -- the surge works, the Iraqis suddenly get serious about governing -- he can make the Democrats dance naked on hot coals while getting slapped with ostrich feathers by the D.C. madame's fantasy sex squad.

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