The U.S. Senate voted 51-46 on Thursday in favor of a war-funding bill that "would begin withdrawal of U.S. troops by Oct. 1, a measure Bush has promised to veto," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday. -- On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 218-208 for a war-funding bill that, unlike the earlier version the House passed on Mar. 23, "would not set a firm date for all U.S. combat troops to leave the war," Reuters reported. -- "Instead, a nonbinding March 31 date for finishing the withdrawal merely would be a 'target.'" -- "The Democrats' bill would allow some U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond March to continue training Iraqi soldiers, protect U.S. facilities, and to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions," Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell noted. -- If it is like earlier versions, this so-called "withdrawal" bill will exempt whole categories of troops from the withdrawal, forbid building new permanent bases in Iraq but do nothing to close the existing permanent bases the U.S. has built and include billions for 'military construction' presumably for those existing bases, require Iraq to pass an oil law that would allow oil companies to take control of large sectors of the Iraq's oil industry, allow 90% of the Western mercenaries in Iraq to remain, not prohibit an unprovoked attack on Iran, and not end the occupation of Iraq. -- Nevertheless, in the context of American politics, the legislation passed by the House and Senate is well-nigh unprecedented, and represents "a bold wartime challenge to President Bush," as David Espo of the Associated Press wrote Friday. -- "The day's developments amounted to a landmark of sorts," David Espo wrote. -- "The vote occurred nearly four years after Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier before a banner that read 'Mission Accomplished' — and 113 days after Democrats took power in Congress and vowed to change course in a war that has cost the lives of more than 3,300 U.S. troops. During Vietnam, a longer and far deadlier war for U.S. forces, Congress went years before it was able to agree on legislation significantly challenging presidential war policy." -- The White House complained about political posturing, but theatrically dismissed the legislation as "dead before arrival" — as have been so many American soldiers in Iraq....
WAR POLICY DEAL CALLED POSSIBLE
By Ron Harris
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
April 27, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democratic leaders began considering new war-funding proposals Thursday and said they'd received some signals from the administration and Republican senators that they might be willing to compromise.
Democrats turned their attention to new ways to pay for the Iraq war after they sent President George W. Bush a bill that would begin withdrawal of U.S. troops by Oct. 1, a measure Bush has promised to veto.
The Senate approved the measure Thursday by a vote of 51-46, largely along party lines. As with the House vote the day before, the bill did not garner enough votes to override a veto.
Consequently, Democrats in the House and Senate already are talking about their next move.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said Congress is willing to negotiate if the president is also.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he is willing to compromise, but he will go only so far.
"I'm a legislator, and I believe legislating is the art of compromise," Reid said as he and other Democratic leaders met with a handful of reporters Thursday afternoon before the vote to talk about their next move.
Reid and the other senators said they have been contacted by senior administration officials and Republican senators about a possible compromise that would produce a bill the president could sign.
The bill would provide more than $90 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats added another $30 billion for veterans care and domestic programs, including money for victims of Hurricane Katrina and homeland security.
Two Republicans, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon, voted for the bill with 48 Democrats and one independent. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, joined 45 Republicans in opposition.
Bush repeated through a spokeswoman his plan to veto the legislation.
"His principle is that he is not going to put our troops into the position of having a date, a surrender date, without providing the Iraqis the chance that they need in order to get the political reconciliation that they need," said White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.
The president likely would be meeting soon with congressional leaders regarding new legislation, she said.
In scathing and even sarcastic terms, Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., blasted the Democrats. Bond accused Democrats of seeking to score political points and trying to micro-manage the war. Democrats are "putting polls and politics ahead of our national security."
Reid and other Senate leaders said that while the next bill may not contain deadlines, it will push for a change in the nation's strategy. They rejected the current increase in troops as a new direction in the war.
"It's a different tactic, but it's not a different strategy," Durbin said. "It's still the American soldiers carrying the battle in a civil war. It's the American soldiers' lives on the line with the Iraqis under no pressure to make the political changes necessary."
A member of the House said Democrats are considering possibly breaking their legislation into three bills, one that would fund troop body armor and readiness and another would fund military health care and establish benchmarks for the Iraqi government for continued U.S. support. A third would provide disaster relief included in the current bill.
Democrats said they believed they could have another Iraq war spending bill ready for the president to sign by June 1, a month before money for the troops is expected to run out.
HOUSE PASSES IRAQ FUNDS WITH 2008 WITHDRAWAL GOAL
By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell
April 27, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Defying President George W. Bush's veto threat, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill providing new war funds while setting a timeline for the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by March 31 next year.
By a mostly partisan vote of 218-208, the Democratic-led House narrowly approved the $124-billion emergency spending bill, ignoring Bush's promise to veto any bill that sets deadlines for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
The Senate is expected to approve the legislation on Thursday, sending it to Bush for what would be only his second veto in more than six years as president.
"Tonight, the House of Representatives voted for failure in Iraq and the president will veto its bill," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Democratic Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has led efforts to end the war, said it was "ironic" that Bush will be sent the bill on Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of the president's speech aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier emblazoned with a banner claiming "mission accomplished" in Iraq.
The House vote came hours after the U.S. commander in Iraq came to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on the status of the war, a briefing the White House hoped would bolster support.
But Democrats were not swayed.
"This bill gives the president the exit strategy from the Iraqi civil war that up until now he has not had," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat.
Democrats, emboldened by public discontent with a four-year-old war that some hoped would last only a few months, used the funding bill to attach an October 1 deadline for the Pentagon to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Unlike an earlier version the House passed last month, this bill would not set a firm date for all U.S. combat troops to leave the war. Instead, a nonbinding March 31 date for finishing the withdrawal merely would be a "target."
But Republicans said any timetables for withdrawal would handcuff U.S. military leaders and encourage enemies in Iraq.
"We can walk out of Iraq, just like we did in Lebanon, just like we did in Vietnam, just like we did in Somalia and we will leave chaos in our wake," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.
After briefing lawmakers on the war, General David Petraeus told reporters that there had been progress in reducing sectarian murders in Baghdad and getting religious groups to work more cooperatively in Anbar province.
But the general said Al Qaeda had dealt some serious blows. "The ability of Al Qaeda to continue horrific sensational attacks obviously has represented [sic] a setback," he said.
About $100 billion of the $124-billion bill would be used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, including Bush's ordering of about 30,000 more troops to Iraq to try to stem the violence which has engulfed much of the country.
The money would be on top of $70 billion already appropriated by Congress for war this year.
Democrats want to use the rest of the $124 billion for domestic programs, ranging from more health care for poor children and veterans to helping farmers recoup weather-related losses.
The Democrats' bill would allow some U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond March to continue training Iraqi soldiers, protect U.S. facilities, and to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions.
There are about 146,000 troops in Iraq now with more on the way as part of Bush's troop buildup.
More than 3,300 U.S. troops have been killed since the war began in 2003 with many more Iraqi soldiers and civilians dead.
SHOWDOWN LOOMS OVER TROOP PULLOUT PLAN
By David Espo
April 27, 2007
WASHINGTON -- In a bold wartime challenge to President Bush, the Democratic-controlled Congress cleared legislation Thursday to begin withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by Oct. 1 with a goal of a complete pullout six months later. The White House dismissed the legislation as "dead before arrival."
The 51-46 Senate vote was largely along party lines, and like House passage a day earlier it underscored that the war's congressional opponents are far short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a Bush veto.
Democrats marked Thursday's final passage with a news conference during which they repeatedly urged Bush to reconsider his veto threat. "This bill for the first time gives the president of the United States an exit strategy" from Iraq, said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin.
The legislation is "in keeping with what the American people want," added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The White House was unmoved. "The president's determined to win in Iraq. I think the bill that they sent us today is mission defeated," said deputy press secretary Dana Perino. "This bill is dead before arrival."
Given that standoff, Republicans and Democrats alike already were maneuvering for position on a follow-up bill.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the just-passed legislation as "political posturing" by Democrats that deserves the veto it will receive. "The solution is simple: Take out the surrender date, take out the pork, and get the funds to our troops,'' he said.
The bill would provide $124.2 billion, more than $90 billion of which would go for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats added billions more for domestic programs, and while most of the debate focused on the troop withdrawal issue, some of the extra spending also has drawn Bush's criticism.
The day's developments amounted to a landmark of sorts.
The vote occurred nearly four years after Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier before a banner that read "Mission Accomplished" -- and 113 days after Democrats took power in Congress and vowed to change course in a war that has cost the lives of more than 3,300 U.S. troops.
During Vietnam, a longer and far deadlier war for U.S. forces, Congress went years before it was able to agree on legislation significantly challenging presidential war policy.
In the current case, any veto override attempt would occur in the House, and even Democrats concede they lack the votes to prevail.
With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at his side, Reid said Democrats hoped to have a follow-up war-funding bill ready for the president's signature by June 1. Despite administration claims to the contrary, he said that was soon enough to prevent serious disruption in military operations.
Several Democratic officials have said they expect the next measure will jettison the withdrawal timetable, a concession to Bush. At the same time, they say they hope to include standards for the Iraqi government to meet on issues such as expanding democratic participation and allocating oil resources.
Bush and congressional Republicans, eager to signal the public that they do not support an open-ended commitment to Iraq, have both embraced these so-called benchmarks. Unlike Democrats, they generally oppose using benchmarks to require specific actions, such as troop withdrawals.
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said at a news conference that the purpose of benchmarks should be to "see how the Iraqi government is doing," rather than to establish deadlines for a troop withdrawal.
Opinion on the issue covered a wide spectrum. "The only good measure that exists in Iraq now is body counts, and that's not a very good measure," said Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a moderate Democrat.
Congress acted as the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, said at a Pentagon news conference that the U.S. mission "may get harder before it gets easier."
Less than three months after Bush announced an increase in troop strength and a shift in tactics, Petraeus said improvements were evident in both Baghdad and the Anbar Province in western Iraq. At the same time, he said the accomplishments "have not come without sacrifice" and that greater American losses have resulted from increased car bombings and suicide attacks, plus the greater concentration of U.S. troops among the Iraqi population.
There were no surprises in the Senate vote, in which 48 Democrats and one independent joined Republicans Gordon Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska in supporting the bill. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who typically votes with the Democrats, sided with 45 Republicans in opposition.
In a clear warning to the White House, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, opposed the legislation but issued a statement saying her patience with the war was limited.
"If the president's new strategy does not demonstrate significant results by August, then Congress should consider all options including a redefinition of our mission and a gradual but significant withdrawal of our troops next year," she said. Like Hagel and Smith, Collins is coming up on a 2008 re-election campaign.
Democrats have long argued that Republicans must choose between a politically unpopular war on the one hand and a president of their own party on the other.
The legislation requires a troop withdrawal to begin July 1 if Bush cannot certify that the Iraqi government is making progress in disarming militias, reducing sectarian violence, and forging political agreements, otherwise by Oct. 1.
While the beginning of a withdrawal is mandated, the balance of the pullback is merely advisory, to take place by April 1, 2008.
Troops could remain after that date to conduct counterterrorism missions, protect U.S. facilities and personnel and train Iraqi security forces.
The war aside, Democrats included more than $10 billion in the legislation that Bush did not ask for. Included was $3.5 billion for the victims of Hurricane Katrina; $2.3 billion for homeland security, and smaller amounts for rural schools, firefighting, children's health care and other programs.