Bush supports $120B war compromise
WASHINGTON – President Bush said he supports a $120 billion war spending bill on track to pass Thursday, ending weeks of wrangling with Democrats on whether to set a date for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
The bill funds the war through September as Bush wanted and does not set a date for troop withdrawals. In exchange for dropping restrictions on the military, Bush agreed to some $17 billion in spending added by Democrats to fund domestic and military-related projects.
“By voting for this bill, members of both parties can show our troops and the Iraqis and the enemy that our country will support our service men and women in harm’s way,” Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference.
The House voted 218-201 to advance the measure, paving the way for a final vote later that day. Democrats, who said they were disappointed with the White House deal, agreed not to block debate so long as the House would vote later this year on a separate proposal to bring troops come home before July 2008.
“I hate this agreement,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Obey said the deal was the best that Democrats could do manage because “the White House is in a cloud somewhere in terms of understanding the realities in Iraq.”
The bill includes the nearly $100 billion that President Bush requested for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as billions in domestic spending, including $6.4 billion in hurricane relief and $3 billion in agricultural assistance.
Republicans were unhappy about the added domestic spending, but said they were relieved the final measure did not attempt to set a timetable on the war.
“We cannot and will not abandon the Iraqis to be butchered by these terrorists in their midst,” said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif. “And we cannot and will not abandon our mission just as real progress is starting to be made.”
While the measure does not include a timetable on the war, it does threaten to withhold U.S. aid dollars for Iraq if Baghdad fails to make progress on political and security reforms. The president, however, could waive that restriction.
The bill also for the first time explicitly states that the U.S. would leave Iraq if asked by the Baghdad government.
Bush said Iraq’s ability to meet the benchmarks outlined in the bill would be difficult.
“It’s going to be hard work for this young government,” he said. “After all, the Iraqis are recovering from decades of brutal dictatorship.”
The hefty spending bill has become a lightning rod for political attacks on Bush and his handling of the deeply unpopular war, which has killed more than 3,400 U.S. troops and cost more than $300 billion. But it also has exposed a sharp divide among Democrats on how far Congress should go to end the war.
Democratic presidential contenders on Capitol Hill are vying for the anti-war vote, but at the same time do not want to appear as though they are turning their backs on the military.
“I believe as long as we have troops in the front line, we’re going to have to protect them,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. “We’re going to have to fund them.”
Biden was alone among the potential Democratic candidates in immediately pledging his support for the bill.
Two front-runners, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, declined to say how they intended to vote on the measure.
Challengers Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio said they would oppose the measure because in their view it issued a blank check to President Bush on the Iraq war.
“Half-measures and equivocations are not going to change our course in Iraq,” Dodd said in a statement. “If we are serious about ending the war, Congress must stand up to this president’s failed policy now ” with clarity and conviction.”
Democratic leaders planned multiple votes in the House on Thursday to ensure the measure would ultimately pass because of disagreements among members on elements of the bill. One vote was to be on war funding, while another would be to approve the extra money for domestic and military-related projects.
While liberal Democrats were expected to vote against the war funds measure, GOP members were expected to make up for the losses. On the added spending, Democrats likely were to be unified in their support for the measure, overcoming GOP objections.
Bush also said Thursday he would address any wrongdoing uncovered by congressional or other investigations related to the firings of eight federal prosecutors, but added that new allegations have not swayed his support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
“If there’s wrongdoing, it will be taken care of,” Bush told reporters at a Rose Garden news conference. Congress and the Justice Department are conducting separate probes into the firings, which Democrats say were improperly political.
Bush said the investigations of the dismissals and questions about Gonzales’ conduct is “kinda being drug out” for political reasons and urged House and Senate committees to wrap up their hearings and get on with legislative business.
Asked whether he still supports Gonzales, Bush replied: “Yes, I’ve got confidence in Al Gonzales doing the job.”
A day earlier, Gonzales’ former White House liaison recounted what she called an “uncomfortable” conversation with the attorney general in which he tried to review the events leading up to the firings. The mid-March meeting, Monica Goodling recalled in a daylong House Judiciary Committee hearing, came well after Gonzales and top Justice officials knew they would be called to testify about those same events.
Democrats have said Goodling’s account makes it sound like Gonzales was trying to coach her and get their stories straight. The Justice Department denies that, contending that Gonzales was trying to comfort Goodling at a difficult time.
Also Thursday, Senate Democrats were introducing a resolution expressing no confidence in Gonzales.
“It is the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people,” reads a draft of the resolution.
It was unclear when the measure would be considered on the Senate floor.