By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007
President Bush warned Congress yesterday that the Pentagon will soon have to start laying off civilian employees and reducing operations at U.S. military bases unless lawmakers send him an emergency war funding bill that does not mandate troop withdrawals from Iraq.
Escalating a dispute with Democratic lawmakers over his request for $196 billion in supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush complained that a delay in providing the money is jeopardizing important military efforts.
"The missions of this department are essential to saving Americans' lives, and they are too important to be disrupted or delayed or put at risk," Bush said at the Pentagon after he received more than two hours of briefings. "Pentagon officials have warned Congress that the continued delay in funding our troops will soon begin to have a damaging impact on the operations of this department."
Congressional Democrats blame Bush for the delay because he refuses to accept a $50 billion funding bill that includes a requirement to begin pulling combat troops out of Iraq and changing the U.S. military mission there. The House passed the bill earlier this month, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate.
Charging that Bush "refuses to fund his own war," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement: "The president demands more money to continue his failed war policy, yet he and his enablers in Congress have rejected our proposal for an additional $50 billion provided they work with us to change course in Iraq. He cannot have it both ways."
Reid said Bush and his fellow Republicans "are so afraid of being held accountable for their failed war policy that they would rather leave our men and women on the battlefield shorthanded than work with us to adjust this disastrous strategy."
Democrats contend that the administration is exaggerating threats of imminent layoffs, saying the Pentagon can draw from a $459 billion base budget that Congress has approved. Bush disputed that yesterday.
He said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has "directed the Army and Marine Corps to develop a plan to lay off civilian employees, to terminate contracts and to prepare our military bases across the country for reduced operations."
Americans "do not want disputes in Washington to undermine our troops in Iraq just as they're seeing clear signs of success," he said. He called on Congress to pass a funding bill before leaving on Christmas vacation and to give the troops "what they need to succeed in their missions, without strings and without delay."
The Pentagon said last week that as many as 200,000 contractors and civilian employees will begin receiving layoff warnings by Christmas unless Congress approves Bush's funding request.
The $50 billion package passed by the House Nov. 14 would have funded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next four months. But Senate Republicans blocked it -- and the White House threatened a veto -- because it would have required the administration to begin pulling U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 30 days of enactment, with a goal of ending U.S. combat operations there by Dec. 15, 2008.