War on the installment plan

Betting that congressional Democrats’ opposition to the Iraq war will remain ineffectual, President Bush has asked for another $46 billion to continue fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That brings the total amount he has asked for this fiscal year, which is barely 3 weeks old, to over $196 billion. If this funding goes through, the United States will have spent over $800 billion on the wars since 2001, most of it carried off budget.

The timing and manner of the request seemed intentionally designed to infuriate the Democrats. Bush waited until after his veto of a child health bill, over a difference of $30 billion over five years, had been upheld.

And he did it as the Democratic Congress is struggling to pass 12 spending bills to fund the government for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, most of which Bush has threatened to veto over an aggregate difference of $22 billion.

As the president has done before, he submitted the supplemental war-funding bill at the last minute and then demanded that Congress pass it immediately, before Thanksgiving at the latest. “Congress should not go home for the holidays while our troops are still waiting for the funds they need,” he said, rubbing it in.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s response: Rather than spend another trillion dollars to occupy Iraq for 10 years, “We must end this war.”

The Democrats are in the same quandary as last January when they took over Congress. They can’t exercise their most effective means of opposing the war — cutting off funds — without appearing to abandon the troops fighting it. And the president last spring successfully vetoed a halfway measure, attaching a timetable for withdrawal to the funding.

Rather than be totally steamrollered by the president, the Democrats said they would ignore his holiday deadline and deal with the funding after the first of the year. There is a chance the political calculus on the war might change by then, with the public becoming completely disenchanted with the war by the disclosures of massive incompetence, waste and corruption in the management of the war, the latest being that the State Department has no idea what it got for a $1.2 billion contract to train Iraqi police.

The Democrats have not been able to exploit popular discontent with the war, but after the early primaries and caucuses the Republicans will no longer be able to ignore it.