- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

2:48 p.m.

A sharply divided House voted today to order President Bush to bring combat troops home from Iraq next year, a victory for Democrats in an epic war-powers struggle and Congress’ boldest challenge yet to the administration’s policy.

Ignoring a White House veto threat, lawmakers voted 218-212, mostly along party lines, for a binding war-spending bill requiring that combat operations cease before September 2008, or earlier if the Iraqi government does not meet certain requirements. Democrats said it was time to heed the mandate of their election sweep last November, which gave them control of Congress.

Slightly more than an hour later, Mr. Bush appeared at the White House alongside veterans and family members of troops to accuse Democrats of staging nothing more than political theater that delays the delivery of resources to soldiers fighting in Iraq.

“A narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war-spending bill that has no chance of becoming law and brings us no closer to getting the troops the resources they need to do their job,” the president said.

“The American people have lost faith in the president’s conduct of this war,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “The American people see the reality of the war; the president does not.”

The vote, echoing clashes between lawmakers and the White House over the Vietnam War four decades ago, pushed the Democratic-led Congress a step closer to a constitutional collision with the wartime commander in chief. Mr. Bush has insisted that lawmakers allow more time for his strategy of sending nearly 30,000 additional troops to Iraq to work.

The roll call also marked a triumph for Mrs. Pelosi, who labored in recent days to bring together a Democratic caucus deeply divided over the war. Some of her party’s more liberal members voted against the bill because they said it would not end the war immediately, while more conservative Democrats said they were reluctant to take flexibility away from generals in the field.

Republicans were almost completely unified in their fight against the bill, which they said was tantamount to admitting failure in Iraq.

“The stakes in Iraq are too high and the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families too great to be content with anything but success,” said Republican Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

The bill marks the first time Congress has used its budget power to try to end the war, now in its fifth year, by attaching the withdrawal requirements to a bill providing $124 billion to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of this year.

Excluding the funds in the House-passed bill, Congress so far has provided more than $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including about $350 billion for Iraq alone, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. More than 3,200 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since war began in March 2003.

Across the Capitol, the Senate planned to debate as early as Monday legislation that also calls for a troop withdrawal — and has also drawn a Bush veto threat.

That $122 billion measure would require that Mr. Bush begin bringing home an unspecified number of troops within four months with the goal of getting all combat troops out by March 31, 2008. Unlike the House bill’s 2008 date, the Senate deadline is not a firm requirement.

While today’s House vote represented Democrats’ latest ratcheting up of political pressure on Mr. Bush, they still face long odds of ultimately being able to force a troop withdrawal.

In the Senate, Democratic leaders will need 60 votes to prevail — a tall order because they will need about a dozen Republicans to join them.

Should lawmakers send Mr. Bush a compromise House-Senate measure, both chambers would need two-thirds majorities to override him — margins that neither seems likely to be able to muster.

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