- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Senate Democratic leaders yesterday revived a once-rejected deadline to pull U.S. troops from Iraq by adding it to their $121 billion emergency war funding bill, which is loaded with pork projects and nonmilitary spending designed to attract support.

Among the domestic spending added to President Bush’s emergency funding request is $425 million for rural Northwest schools to offset declining federal compensation for timber and fish harvests — $25 million more than the House version doled out for the program.

The mandate calling for most U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by next March, which died last week in a bipartisan 50-48 vote, has been altered. The new timetable includes benchmarks for progress, similar to those in the House bill, that must be met to keep forces in Iraq until the pullout deadline.

“The White House has abdicated its leadership on this issue and so it is left to Congress to speak for the people,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “This is not micromanagement — this is management, period,” he said. “This is not tying the hands of our military commanders, this is returning the foreign policy of the United States to a strong, responsible path.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Democrats were misguided in attaching a pullout timetable to emergency war funding after the chamber sent a “clear message” that it would not retreat from the Iraq war.

“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,” Mr. McConnell said. “We owe our troops better than that.”

The bill repeats provisions in last week’s failed resolution for the withdraw of U.S. troops to begin 120 days after enactment of the legislation.

It also repeats the mandate for all U.S. forces to leave Iraq by March 2008 except for a limited number of troops needed for protecting U.S. personnel, training Iraqi forces and conducting “targeted counterterrorism operations,” according to a draft of the bill.

The bill increases the president’s emergency funding request by about $18 billion, but adds just $500 million to his $96 billion request for the Defense Department. The rest of the money goes to Gulf Coast hurricane recovery and a variety of domestic programs such as funding rural Northwest schools.

Still, sweetening the bill with pork projects might not be enough to win Republican support.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said he could forgo the timber money for schools in his state if it is tied to a pullout timetable. “The war in Iraq is a bigger issue than the timber payments,” Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said.

The Senate legislation in many respects mirrors the $124 billion House bill, which prescribes an exit of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of August or sooner if benchmarks are not met.

House Democrats offer grudging support of the measure, and the chamber’s majority leaders struggled yesterday to corral the 218 votes needed for passage.

“There are things in this [bill] that no one likes,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a hawkish Maryland Democrat who opposes setting a withdrawal date but will vote for the legislation nevertheless.

Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, said a lot of the caucus “would like to write a better bill” but will have to vote on this one. He said he was leaning toward voting for the bill.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders are working to ensure that if the bills pass, the conference committee is united in opposition to Democrats’ plans for a pullout timetable, a Republican aide said.

House Republicans sent a letter yesterday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, requesting the bill be open to amendments and for an extended debate on the legislation.

The letter, signed by Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and eight other top Republicans, noted that the House provided four days of debate on the nonbinding resolution passed last month that voiced opposition to Mr. Bush’s plan to send 21,500 reinforcements to Iraq.

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