Senate expected to pass troop exit bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is expected to pass a bill today that would order the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin this fall. Last night, the House voted 218-208 to pass the $124.2 billion supplemental spending measure containing the provision.
President Bush is expected to receive the bill next week, and swiftly veto it.
The legislation is the first binding challenge on the war that Democrats have managed to execute since they took control of both houses of Congress in January.
“The sacrifices borne by our troops and their families demand more than the blank checks the president is asking for, for a war without end,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said.
Democrats said the bill was on track to arrive on the president’s desk on Tuesday, the anniversary of Bush’s announcement aboard the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.
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“The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001, and still goes on,” Bush said on May 1, 2003, in front of a huge “Mission Accomplished” banner.
Bush since has acknowledged that the war campaign has not progressed as he had hoped. After the November elections in which Democrats swept up enough seats to take the majority, Bush announced a new strategy that involved sending additional forces to Iraq.
“Last November, the American people voted for a change in strategy in Iraq – and the president listened,” White House spokesman Dana Perino said in a statement Wednesday. “Tonight, the House of Representatives voted for failure in Iraq – and the president will veto its bill.”
Republicans labeled the timetable a “surrender date.”
“Al-Qaida will view this as the day the House of Representatives threw in the towel,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.
The huge bill would fund the war, among other things, but demand troop withdrawals begin on Oct. 1 or sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet certain benchmarks. The bill sets a nonbinding goal of completing the troop pullout by April 1, 2008, allowing for forces conducting certain noncombat missions, such as attacking terrorist networks or training Iraqi forces, to remain.
Two Republicans – Reps. Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Walter Jones of North Carolina – joined 216 Democrats in passing the bill. Voting no were 195 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
While Bush was confident the bill ultimately would fail because Democrats lacked the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, he kept up pressure on lawmakers. On the same day as the House vote, the president dispatched his Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and other senior defense officials to Capitol Hill to make his case: Additional forces recently sent to Iraq were yielding mixed results and the strategy needed more time to work.
Petraeus told reporters that sectarian killings in Baghdad were only a third of what they were in January, before Bush began sending in additional U.S. forces. But “the ability of al-Qaida to conduct horrific, sensational attacks obviously has represented a setback and is an area in which we’re focusing considerable attention,” Petraeus said.
Republicans and Democrats alike emerged from a private briefing with Petraeus to say he had only confirmed their positions.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said Democrats were still considering their next step. He said after Bush’s veto, one option would be funding the war through September as Bush wants but setting benchmarks that the Iraqi government must meet.
“I think everything that passes will have some sort of condition (placed) on it,” he said. Ultimately, Murtha added, the 2008 military budget considered by Congress in June “is where you’ll see the real battle,” he said.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has said the Army has enough bookkeeping flexibility to pay for operations in Iraq well into July. Lawmakers and Capitol Hill staff aides view mid- to late May as the deadline for completing the war spending bill to avoid hardships.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt told reporters Wednesday that Republicans would be open to legislation that would condition foreign aid for Iraq on the government’s ability to meet certain standards, such as reaching a political compromise on sharing oil revenues.
“I think that discussion is the discussion we need to have. … We have for months now favored that kind of inclusion in a bill that may be very important at resolving this impasse that we’re in,” Blunt said.