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Congress Tackles Iraq Budget, Debate

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Congress Tackles Iraq Budget, Debate

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Congress Tackles Iraq Budget, Debate

Congress Tackles Iraq Budget, Debate

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The White House is asking for another quarter-trillion dollars to spend in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 20 months. Meanwhile, the Senate is now mulling procedural questions in a debate over a resolution on the Iraq war.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, the first woman to serve as police chief of Washington, D.C.

CHADWICK: First, in Washington today, the Senate is debating how to debate a resolution opposing President Bush's troop build up in Iraq. It's possible there will be several resolutions considered or none at all.

While the Senate is stuck on the procedural question, violence is surging in Baghdad. The White House is asking for another quarter of a trillion dollars to spend in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 20 months.

Joining us to explain all the debate and everything else, NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Welcome back, Ron.

RON ELVING: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: First of all about Iraq, just what is the Senate supposed to debate and vote on today?

ELVING: Well, the business before the Senate was supposed to be the Warner-Levin resolution. Now, that's the one among several competing resolutions that had the most support - the most Republicans willing to vote for it, as well as most all the Democrats.

And, you know, it looked like we were going to get a vote and I think we may get some kind of a cloture vote - that's the vote where they see if they've got 60 votes to cut off debate. But it does not look as though, right now, there are enough Republicans willing to vote to cut off debate, because, well, the party discipline is back and they don't want to embarrass the White House.

CHADWICK: You know, I wonder if this would not also be a very difficult vote for some Democrats, because doesn't one part of this resolution say we're not going to cut off funding for Iraq? And that's something that maybe politically very attractive to Democrats six months from now.

ELVING: You put your finger right on it, Alex, because both parties are particularly concerned about the funding question. This is a nonbinding resolution that they're debating. It would not force the president in one direction or the other. But some Democrats want to hold open the possibility that down the road they actually would go after the funding, so they don't want to preclude that as a possibility. And that sets up a conflict for them.

They could, of course, vote to cut off debate and move to voting on the resolution and then vote against the resolution later in the week. But right now the question is can we just cut off the preliminary procedurals and move on to the resolution itself. And that's the vote that's supposed to happen tonight.

CHADWICK: Could the Senate, actually, after all this week and the country, I think, really politically focused on Iraq - simply do nothing?

ELVING: Yes. Absolutely. And I think right now that's not a bad bet, because both parties perhaps see themselves more embarrassed by anything that might come out of this week's debate and this week's resolution voting than they would be by doing nothing.

CHADWICK: Huh. Well, you also have Iraq a big part of the new budget resolution. How much of that is going on the war?

ELVING: A hundred billion dollars more in the current fiscal year - that's eight more months of this year - and then another 140 billion or so in the new fiscal year, 2008. Although the White House said this morning it might be bigger than that. So at any rate, just what they're asking for on paper would be a quarter of a trillion dollars for the next year and eight months - 20 months.

CHADWICK: And, of course, Iraq, actually, is not the biggest part, or even perhaps a very big part of the budget. There's a lot in there.

ELVING: Well, it's a $2.9 trillion budget and about six and a quarter hundred billion dollars of that is defense, but the administration says that through program cuts elsewhere in the budget - even with the spending on the war - and through revenue growth - and they have a lot of very happy assumptions about the economy over the next several years - they think that in five years following this path they can actually get to a zero annual deficit. The deficit now is running a little over $200 billion a year.

CHADWICK: And still spend $2 billion a week in Iraq? Doesn't sound possible.

ELVING: It doesn't, but then - among other things that are going on in this budget - you'll notice that after the year 2009 they don't budget in any costs for Iraq and Afghanistan anymore. They just assume at that point, I guess, that it won't be costing us any money or we'll be out of there, or we'll, I guess, go back to supplemental appropriations that they don't ask for in the projected budget.

CHADWICK: So just take me through it, what's going to happen with the president's budget, now, with the Democratic Congress?

ELVING: Well, it has its moment in the media's sun, essentially. It gives us all a chance to see what one part of the government imagines might happen over the next five years if everything went exactly the way they want it to. Sort of like writing different versions of a novel, everyone writes his own next chapter.

And now we've seen what the Bush administration would like to see the next five years look like and how they imagine themselves perhaps extracting themselves from Iraq over the next several years. It would seem to indicate that they don't expect to be there by 2012 or even 2010.

And the next thing up is that Congress has its hearings and it has what they call mark ups where they amend the budget. And given that, as you say, that Congress is now in the hands of the other party, this budget's moment in the sun may be rather brief.

CHADWICK: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving, shining here every Monday morning. Ron, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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