- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

Both chambers of Congress yesterday passed a $120 billion war-funding bill without troop-withdrawal timetables for Iraq, ending a 108-day standoff with the White House as Democrats forfeited demands for a pullout.

The Democratic leadership’s painful defeat in challenging President Bush on war policy was evident in the 280-142 House vote, with 194 Republicans and 86 Democrats supporting the war funding. More than half the Democratic caucus, 140 members, voted against it, as did Republican Reps. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. of Tennessee and Ron Paul of Texas.

In the Senate, it garnered more bipartisan support to pass 80-14, winning “yes” votes from 42 Republicans, 37 Democrats and one independent, while 10 Democrats, 3 Republicans and one independent voted “no.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush applauded the Democrat-led Congress for dropping “arbitrary timetables for withdrawal” and shaving off $4 billion in pork-barrel spending that Democrats put in an earlier war bill, although the president said he wanted to trim more of the remaining $17 billion in domestic spending in the legislation.

“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 servicemen and women in harm’s way,” Mr. Bush said at a Rose Garden press conference.

After the vote, White House spokesman Alex Conant said, “Congress is to be congratulated for successfully providing our troops with the funding and flexibility they need to protect our country, rather than mandating arbitrary timetables for military operations.”

Mr. Bush, who earlier this month vetoed a war bill with a pullout deadline, could sign the new bill as soon as today, rushing the funds to pay for training and equipment for the troop surge under way in Baghdad.

“The fact is this is simply the best bill we could put together that the president would sign,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “This is political reality. It is not the bill we wanted.”

The massive defections among Democrats — including a “nay” vote by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California — underscores the intense pressure they are feeling from the party’s powerful anti-war base.

Also, three of the four Democratic senators running for president voted against the bill, which has faced a recent barrage of attacks by former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who has positioned himself as an outspoken anti-war candidate.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a persistent critic of the war, was the only Democratic candidate to vote for the funding.

“It’s time for us to do our part, as well, to support the troops,” he said after the vote.

The other hopefuls — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut — voted no.

Congressional offices yesterday were inundated with calls from members of Code Pink, a feminist anti-war group.

“They’re stupid if they don’t think it will affect the 2008 election,” Code Pink spokeswoman Gael Murphy said. “More money, more death, more destruction — that’s what this vote is.”

The bill also drew the ire of anti-war lawmakers.

“We are moving backward,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and one of the chamber’s most vocal war critics. “We are faced with a spending bill that kicks the can down the road and buys the administration time.”

Democratic leaders say they have not given up the fight to end the war and predict that Republicans eventually will join them to oppose the president. They plan to next challenge Mr. Bush with votes in July on the $481 billion defense budget request for 2008 and with votes in September on the $141 billion war supplemental request for next year.

Mrs. Pelosi called the bill “a baby step” rather than the “giant step” she had hoped for toward ending the war. She vowed to hold a vote to repeal the 2002 authorization for the president to go to war in Iraq.

“This debate will go on,” she said.

Although free of veto-provoking pullout deadlines, the bill sets 18 benchmarks for Iraqis, backed up by the threat of losing U.S. aid if they do not meet expectations.

The benchmarks measure the Iraqi government’s progress toward national reconciliation and include adopting laws to disarm militias, conferring equal legal protections to all sects and sharing oil revenues among the Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunnis. Under the legislation, Mr. Bush must report to Congress on the benchmarks in July and September, potentially triggering the cutoff of U.S. redevelopment aid to the country. But the president can waive that penalty.

The emergency spending bill had stalled as Democrats insisted on including timetables to pull out U.S. forces from Iraq. Mr. Bush denounced such timelines as intolerable congressional meddling in war strategy and vetoed an earlier version of the bill despite the urgent need for funding. Faced with a stalemate and Congress’ job-approval rating falling last week below the president’s, the Democratic leadership backed down.

“The process of getting emergency funds to our men and women on the ground has taken far too long, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “If all funding bills are going to be this partisan and contentious, it will be a very long year.”

The bill provides $103 billion to support combat troops, slightly more than Mr. Bush requested more than three months ago to pay for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

It also contained $17 billion in domestic spending, which Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans had criticized.

The extra spending pays $6.4 billion for Hurricane Katrina recovery, $4.8 billion for veteran health care, $3 billion for disaster aid to farmers, $1.1 billion for military housing, $1 billion for homeland security projects such as protecting ports and $650 million for health care for poor children.

The bill also increases the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour over two years, providing Democrats a much-needed legislative success.

The House passed the domestic spending and minimum-wage increase passed in a separate 348-73 vote, winning support from 225 Democrats and 123 Republicans. A single Democrat, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, and 72 Republicans voted against it.

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