From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi.
The battle over funding for the war breaks out into the open today with President Bush's presentation of a $2.9 trillion budget that includes $245 billion in new funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the Senate debate over Bush's planned US troop increase in Iraq may get derailed.
The highly anticipated vote on a non-binding resolution opposing a troop increase is on the verge of not happening at all, unless a deal is reached quickly between Senate leaders Harry Reid (D) and Mitch McConnell (R), NBC's Ken Strickland reports. Reid has scheduled a 5:30 pm procedural vote that would allow the process to begin. But McConnell announced late Friday that all 49 Senate Republicans, including those who are chief sponsors and supporters of the resolution, will vote against the "motion to proceed," thereby keeping Democrats from obtaining the 60 votes needed to move forward toward a vote.
Democrats contend that Republicans, at the White House's direction, are trying to avoid a vote that is likely to demonstrate a bipartisan majority opposing Bush's plan. McConnell says his conference is "using procedure to ensure a fair process." Even so, it's striking that McConnell managed to get all Senate Republicans to agree to vote against the motion -- including John Warner, the resolution's chief sponsor, and Chuck Hagel, the GOP conference's most vocal opponent of a troop increase.
As of Sunday evening, there was no sign of a deal in the offing, Strickland reports. Reid and McConnell have failed to come to terms how many resolutions will come up for votes, and how many votes will be needed for a resolution to be considered "passed." McConnell has said previously that all resolutions should be required to obtain a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority for passage (as is often the case), Strickland says. He also wants votes on at least two White House-supported resolutions: 1) a measure offered by Sens. John McCain (R), Lindsey Graham (R), and Joe Lieberman (I) that supports Bush's new strategy and requires benchmarks for the Iraqi government, and 2) a resolution asserting that Congress will not eliminate or reduce troop funding. Both are also non-binding.
Reid says he's made three different offers, but obviously the two sides can't reach an agreement. With a 60-vote threshold, it's doubtful that either the McCain measure or Warner's bipartisan resolution "disagreeing" with the surge would pass, per Strickland. Still, Reid is confident that Warner's measure could get a simple 51-vote majority.
Bush rolls out his budget proposal at a Cabinet meeting this morning. It will be his first budget to detail spending requests for Iraq and Afghanistan, diverging from his previous approach of seeking funding for the wars through supplementals. Even with the increased military funding, Bush and his Administration assert that they can eliminate the deficit by 2012 without raising taxes by holding down domestic spending. Democrats may zero in on suggested cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, student loans, and veterans' health care, one Democratic Hill advisor suggests. Republican lawmakers will aggressively counter this opposition, but will be haunted by their failure to come up with a budget last year, even though they were in the majority.
And former Sen. John Edwards releases his universal health care plan today, reminding us, not for the first time, of then-Rep. Dick Gephardt's 2004 presidential bid. That cycle, Gephardt became the first candidate in the Democratic field to release a detailed health care plan. Also as Gephardt did, Edwards is investing a lot of time in courting labor support and winning the Iowa caucuses. Still, polling suggests that health care will be a top issue in 2008, whereas in 2004, the issue was overshadowed by Iraq. Edwards told NBC's Tim Russert yesterday that his plan would require higher taxes and cost as much as $90 billion to $120 billion per year.