Washington The military's top generals have warned Iraq is on the cusp of a civil war and that U.S. troops must remain in large numbers until at least next spring. But if the winds suddenly blow a different direction, Congress is ready to celebrate with a $20 million victory party.
Lawmakers included language in this year's defense spending bill, approved last week, allowing them to spend the money. The funds for "commemoration of success" in Iraq and Afghanistan originally were tucked into last year's defense measure, but they went unspent amid an uptick in violence in both countries that forced the Pentagon to extend tours of duty for thousands of troops.
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is the original sponsor of the provision, which Democrats agreed to add to last year's defense bill. Senate Republicans kept the authorization in the 2007 bill. With elections five weeks away, Democrats are pointing to it as another example of where the GOP has gone astray in handling the war in Iraq.
"If the Bush administration is planning victory celebrations, Americans deserve to know what their plan is to get us to a victory in Iraq," said Rebecca Kirszner, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, said he thought the finger-pointing by Democrats was silly because the provision was added last year by unanimous consent.
"Apparently they were for honoring the troops before they were against it," Stewart said.
Carolyn Weyforth, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said, "Republicans are confident we will be victorious in the ongoing war in terror, and we look forward to a time when those funds can be used to honor the men and women who have risked and given their lives."
Under the language, the president could "designate a day of celebration" to honor troops serving in the two wars. The president also could call on the nation "to observe that day with appropriate ceremonies and activities" and issue awards to troops who have served honorably.
The money will be available for the 2007 budget year, which began Oct. 1.