WASHINGTON -- Arguing it is unfair to continue to pass the cost of the war in Iraq to future generations, three senior House Democrats Tuesday offered a long-shot plan to raise taxes to pay for the $150 billion bill for the war in 2008.
At the same time, one of the Democrats, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced he would delay action on the White House's war request for next year, saying he refuses "to continue the status quo."
The tax plan, unveiled by Obey and Reps. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., would require low- and middle-income taxpayers to add 2 percent to their tax bill. Wealthier people would add a 12 to 15 percent surcharge, Obey said.
Sponsors of the tax plan appeared more interested in making a point — getting people to focus on the cost of the war — than offering it as a serious proposal.
Top Democrats immediately shot down the idea, and it came under scathing assault from Republicans for linking funding for U.S. troops overseas with tax increases.
"Just as I have opposed the war from the outset ... I am opposed to a war surtax," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"If the new majority has proven one thing this session, it's that no piece of legislation is immune from being converted into a vehicle to raise taxes," said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the GOP whip.
The tax surcharge sponsors said the idea is similar to policies put in place to pay for the Vietnam War and World War II. For Vietnam, surcharges equal to between 5 percent and 7.5 percent were in place between 1968 and 1970.
The move to defer action on President Bush's $189 billion war funding request until next year, also announced by Obey, appears to reflect frustration over Democrats' inability to force Bush to roll back the U.S. mission in Iraq. Obey chairs the Appropriations panel, which is responsible for war funding, and his stance seems to ensure that a stand-alone Iraq bill won't pass this year.
Murtha, chief author of the Pentagon appropriations bill, said that that measure will instead contain enough money to fund the war until February or March. Democrats hope to send that bill to Bush before a stopgap funding measure expires on Nov. 16.
The war in Iraq is costing about $10 billion a month, with Afghanistan and other missions running about $2 billion a month.
Democrats hope their chances of winning a battle with Bush on the war will be better next year, as the election season heats up and public support for Bush's war stance continues to lag.
"The showdown is going to be in January or February," McGovern said.
Democrats have also been seeking in recent weeks to contrast the approximately $190 billion cost of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars with the far smaller increases that they want in domestic programs. Bush has threatened to veto numerous domestic spending bills over Democratic-sought budget increases totaling $23 billion.
"The war will cost future generations billions of dollars in taxes that we're shoving off on them, and it is devouring money that could be used to expand their educational opportunities, expand their job training possibilities, attack our long-term energy problems and build stronger communities," Obey said.
The House on Tuesday passed legislation, by a 377-46 vote, that would require President Bush to report to Congress in 60 days, and every 90 days thereafter, on the status of its redeployment plans in Iraq.
The bill was cast by its co-sponsors, Democrats John Tanner of Tennessee and Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, as the first bipartisan compromise on the war. Republicans agreed to swing behind it because they said it encourages Pentagon contingency planning already under way and does not mandate troop withdrawals.
Also Tuesday, a group of Democratic allies, including unions and liberal advocacy groups such as MoveOn.org and Americans United for Change, announced grassroots and advertising campaigns urging Republicans to override Bush's promised veto of a bill expanding a popular children's health insurance program known as SCHIP.
The $3 million to $5 million campaign will be expanded to upcoming battles over domestic spending, including a measure boosting spending on education, health research and job training programs.
Democrats have been reluctant to wage a battle involving many appropriations bills and have instead pressed for negotiations. But Bush is spoiling for a fight to impress core GOP voters he is a budget hawk.
The Democrats' liberal wing is cheerleading for such a battle, believing voters will support additional money for popular initiatives such as education, health research and homeland security. Congressional leaders seem to now believe one can't be avoided.
"SCHIP and the battle over spending priorities is the most important fight since the showdown over privatizing Social Security," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "I don't think we need to remind Bush who won that battle."
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