WASHINGTON The leaders of a House panel that oversees military spending said Wednesday they are drafting legislation that would pay for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the rest of the year.
Reps. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the committee, predicted the proposal would be done by February and voted on by March.
Murtha and his Republican counterpart on the panel, Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida, said they hope lawmakers can put aside their differences on the war and focus on taking care of the troops.
"Our troops deserve better and I would hope that we can work together," Murtha told senior defense officials testifying before the House appropriations defense subcommittee.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said such a bill would be extremely helpful because of the Pentagon's need to plan ahead.
Bush has requested about $189 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the 2008 budget year, which began Oct. 1. Congress has approved only about $87 billion, leaving the Defense Department $102.5 billion short.
Democratic leaders have said they believe the military has enough money to last through April. They also suggested they want to hear first from Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, before approving more money. He is expected to testify by mid-April, likely the week of April 7.
Murtha told reporters last week that he recognized the urgent requirement by the military for the money. But, he added, while the legislation will give the military the money it needs, it also will demand troops leave Iraq by the end of the year a showstopper for the Bush administration. Murtha said he'll also ask for other conditions such as that all deploying troops must be fully trained and equipped.
Similar bills scraped by on party line votes in the House last year only to fail in the Senate, where Democrats hold a more narrow margin of control and 60 votes are needed to overcome procedural hurdles. Unable to override a veto with the needed two-thirds majority, Democrats have been forced to strip anti-war language from past spending bills.