By Nick Winnie

The political battle to determine the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq continues to hold center stage in Washington D.C., particularly when it comes to funding the unpopular war.

On May 10, the House of Representatives approved a new war spending bill that includes a two-stage financing of the war and demands a greater deal of cooperation between President Bush and Congress.

President Bush, who has repeatedly requested that Congress give the military $95 billion with no strings attached, is opposed to the bill and has stated that he will veto it if it reaches the Oval Office. His continued call for what many in Washington are calling a “blank check” without timetables for withdrawal or benchmarks has left him in select company in the Capitol; the Congressional majority, many GOP moderates, and his own Defense Secretary Robert Gates disagree with Bush on the future of the war.

The proposed House plan allocates about $30 billion for the next two months of the war effort and demands that President Bush address Congress on July 13 to report on the Iraqi government’s efforts to strengthen its military and achieve political stability. At that point, Congress would vote a second time to decide if the administration should receive the remaining $50 billion to sustain the war effort through Sept. 30.

Though President Bush has threatened to veto the new House bill, it serves a political purpose for the Democratic-majority Congress. According to Heather Stephens of the UC Santa Cruz Democrats, “The point of this House bill is to keep this debate in the national spotlight.Congress needs to raise the political pressure on the White House.”

Like many Democrats, Stephens views each legislative round on war spending within the larger context of gaining concessions from Bush. On May 10, Bush expressed openness to establishing benchmarks — firm goals to measure progress — in evaluating the general war effort. It was the president’s first public concession since the battle over war funding began several months ago.

The pressure focused on the President to make concessions is also coming from moderate Republicans, many of whom are demanding significant progress in Iraq by September as a condition for their continued support of Bush.

Jeremy Naves, a former Marine and current treasurer of the UCSC Republicans, finds faults in both the recently proposed bill and Bush’s requests.

“The House bill does not present a viable solution, “ Naves said. “But we also can’t present the President with a blank check.”

Like many moderate Republicans, Naves fears that a plan of immediate withdrawal from Iraq advocated by some Democrats would only further destabilize the larger region, but believes a timetable for gradual withdrawal of American forces is necessary.

The military currently has enough funding to continue operations through early summer. As midsummer approaches, the prospect of an empty war chest will continue to heighten the sense of urgency in Washington, and both Democrats and Republicans will attempt to use the issue to their own political advantages.

“The Republicans will paint the Democrats as weak in supporting the troops, and the Democrats will paint the Republicans as spenders out of control,” Ronnie Lipshutz, UCSC politics professor, said. “You are looking at bare-knuckle politics for the next year, and both sides are very eager to draw blood.”