Senate Democrats voted almost along party lines 53-45 to pass a House measure that would have paid for the Iraq War but required the President to start bringing the troops home.
Since the measure failed to get 60 votes thus making it filibuster proof, additional funding for the troops is dead for the moment:
Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said this week that if Congress cannot pass legislation that ties war money to troop withdrawals, they would not send President Bush a bill this year.
Instead, they would revisit the issue upon returning in January, pushing the Pentagon to the brink of an accounting nightmare and deepening Democrats' conflict with the White House on the war.
In the meantime, Democrats say, the Pentagon can use some of its $471 billion annual budget without being forced to take drastic steps. "The days of a free lunch are over," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
At the White House on Friday, deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said: "DOD would have to eat into their annual budget and I believe that still presents difficulties in getting the troops in the field the resources they need to carry out their mission."
"We'd rather see the Department of Defense, the military planners and our troops focusing on military maneuvers rather than accounting maneuvers as they carry out their mission in the field," Fratto said.
According to Defense Secretary Gates,
the Democrats are mistaken (or lying through their teeth) if they think the war can be funded the way they say it can:
"There is a misperception that this department can continue funding our troops in the field for an indefinite period of time through accounting maneuvers, that we can shuffle money around the department. This is a serious misconception," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.
As a result, he said that he is faced with the undesirable task of preparing to cease operations at Army bases by mid-February, and lay off about 100,000 defense department employees and an equal number of civilian contractors.
A month later, he said, similar moves would have to be made by the Marines. Some members of Congress believe the Pentagon can switch enough money to cover the war accounts, Gates said. But he added that he only has the flexibility to transfer about $3.7 billion — which is just one week's worth of war expenses.
Once again, the Democrats and the President are going to play chicken with funding the troops. It remains to be seen if the Democrats are going to be responsible enough to cut a deal with the Administration so that the troops in the field get all the funding they need to carry out their mission.