Here we go again.
The House of Representatives late last night approved $50 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the additional funding comes with strings that George W. Bush won't accept unless he has no choice: a requirement that U.S. troops start coming home from Iraq within 30 days, with a goal of a complete withdrawal by the end of 2008, plus a government-wide ban on the torturous interrogation technique called "waterboarding."
Up next, the Senate, and we all know what's going to happen there.
As the New York Times says this morning, if past is prologue, "Republicans will use their muscle in the Senate, which is evenly divided on war issues, to block the bill."
That's true as far as it goes. The question is, what will the Democrats do about it? Republicans can use the 60-vote cloture requirement to block a vote on the Democratic plan -- the same 60-vote requirement the Democrats didn't use to block the confirmation vote for Michael Mukasey. If past practice holds, the Democrats will respond by caving in: If they can't spend more money on the war with a timetable for withdrawal attached, they'll spend more money on the war with no timetable attached.
They don't have to do that, of course. With only 49 votes in the Senate, the Republicans can't pass legislation all by themselves. If Democrats hold together, they can simply refuse to approve any new funding for the war unless Bush and the Republicans agree to their terms. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insists that that's how it's going to be this time, sort of: If Bush won't agree to funding tied to a timetable, Congress won't approve any new funding -- this year. But that doesn't mean that the war will end; it just means that the Pentagon will have to shuffle money from budget to budget until early next year, when the Democrats will surely cave once again lest they be accused -- and they'll be accused anyway -- of "pulling the rug out from under our troops."
Meanwhile, in Iraq? As the Washington Post reports this morning, senior U.S. military commanders are complaining that the Iraqi government is squandering whatever opportunity the "surge" has provided it. Recall that the "surge" was supposed to be a two-part deal: Additional U.S. troops help bring down the level of violence, and the Iraqis use the resulting "breathing space" to pursue something like national reconciliation. The second part of that still isn't happening, the commanders say, and they act like time is running out. If there's no breakthrough by the summer, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno says ... well, "we're going to have to review our strategy."
Bonus fact: As soldiers rotate in and out of the country, there will be 175,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of this week, the highest U.S. troop level in the war so far.