Iraq deadline in war spending bill set
WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Wednesday revived legislation urging President Bush to bring combat troops home from Iraq in a year, attaching it to a $122 billion measure needed to fund the war.The move puts Democrats on track for another confrontation with President Bush over the increasingly unpopular war and congressional Republicans, who are expected to try to block the measure.House Democratic leaders are pushing a similar measure that would require that troops leave by 2008 – a bill party officials predicted that chamber would pass on Thursday, albeit by a razor-thin margin.”United States troops should not be policing a civil war, and the current conflict in Iraq requires principally a political solution,” says a draft Senate bill circulated to members in anticipation of a Thursday committee vote.The measure would provide nearly $97 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and billions more in domestic aid and emergency relief programs. It would require that Bush begin bringing home some troops within four months of its passage, setting a nonbinding goal of having all combat troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008.The provision is similar to a resolution the Senate rejected last week. It failed on a 50-48 vote, falling 12 votes shy of the 60 needed to pass, after Bush pledged to veto the legislation.But unlike that resolution, Democrats think the spending legislation has a much better chance of passing. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who voted against last week’s resolution, has agreed to support the spending bill because it outlines benchmarks for the Iraqi government.Democrats also think Republicans will be reluctant to reject a much-needed spending bill that would fund popular projects in their home states in favor of a politically unpopular war.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “continues to believe that despite the high-fives the Republicans had last week, there’s serious heartburn in the caucus over the war,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.So far, Republican leaders say they will reject the bill.”We must not risk providing our troops the equipment and supplies they need to carry out their mission by including this risky Democratic leadership retreat plan, this poison pill,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We owe our troops better than that.”The House is expected to vote Thursday on a similar $124 billion spending bill, amounting to $124 billion, that would finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House bill, which Bush also threatened to veto, would require that combat troops be out of Iraq before September 2008, possibly sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet certain benchmarks.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., continued Wednesday to press party members to back the bill, unsure whether she had enough votes to pass it. In a closed-door meeting, former President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, tried to convince party skeptics that the bill was their best chance at ending the war.Max Cleland, a Vietnam War veteran and former Democratic senator from Georgia, also came out in support of the bill – a name that could help to persuade more conservative Democrats who do not want to tie the hands of military commanders.Like the House bill, the Senate legislation would allow for an unspecified number of troops to be left behind in Iraq for anti-terrorism missions, training Iraqi forces and protecting coalition infrastructure and personnel. Of the more than 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, fewer than half are combat forces.The Senate proposal also would urge the Iraqi government to meet certain benchmarks, such as disarming militias and amending the constitution to protect Sunni minorities.The inclusion of the benchmarks was enough to persuade Nelson to support the bill, said spokesman David DiMartino. Nelson opposes arbitrary deadlines to end the war but wanted legislation that would put pressure on the Iraqi government to take more responsibility.The Senate measure would set no consequences if the Iraqis fail to achieve those goals. Under the House bill, combat troops would have to begin coming home as early as this fall if the president cannot certify that the Iraqi government was making progress.But the Senate measure requires the U.S. commander in Iraq to submit regular reports on progress made by the Iraqi government toward meeting those goals; the president also would have to report on progress made in redeploying troops.”The consequences would be developed by Congress after the U.S. commander reports to Congress,” said DiMartino.