Breaking: House passes "installment plan" Iraq spending bill

It calls for funding the war only through July, at which point Bush would have to show that the Iraqi government has met the benchmarks set out for it in the bill. If it has, the military gets another two months of funding to wage war; if it hasn’t, the next stage of funding is for withdrawal. This is precisely the sort of piecemeal scheme Bush vowed yesterday to veto, and about which Gates said this earlier today:

“A ‘No’ vote in July would have dramatic consequences. The bill asks me to run the department of defence like a skiff, and I’m trying to drive the biggest supertanker in the world,” said Mr Gates. “We just don’t have the agility to be able to manage a two-month appropriation very well.”

Reid apparently has a totally different idea in mind for the Senate, along the lines of requiring withdrawal to begin on October 1 but giving Bush the power to push that date back by three months on a rolling basis if he reports progress regularly. Like I said this morning, I figure the compromise bill will end up simply giving him the money he needs through September, with an explicit or implicit understanding that if things don’t look dramatically better by then, it’s game over. Ironically, the less progress there is in Iraq in the interim, the more likely the Dems are to give him what he wants since they don’t want him blaming them for having withheld the money needed for victory if and when defeat finally does come.

Update: Iraq’s deputy prime minister is in D.C. and has been busy knocking on doors:

Bush and key lawmakers have stepped up expressions of frustration with the government in Baghdad in recent weeks, and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh spent his day in a series of meetings with key senators appealing for patience.

In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Saleh said the purpose of the meetings was to convey the “imperative of success against terrorism and extremism” in the Middle East.

Update: In an earlier vote tonight, 59 Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with the GOP in defeating a bill that would have required withdrawal within nine months. Reportedly Pelosi let it come to a vote to placate the anti-war stalwarts, knowing that it would fail.

Update: I don’t know what the explanation is for this — bureaucratic inefficiency and Iraqi government sluggishness, presumably — but it’s really discouraging.