- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

House Democrats yesterday won a hard-fought battle on the first binding resolution on the war in Iraq by passing a bill that would force President Bush to withdraw combat troops by September 2008.

“Proudly, this new Congress voted to bring an end to the war in Iraq and took a giant step in that direction,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the bill passed by a 218-212 vote.

Within two hours of the House bill’s passage, Mr. Bush condemned the legislation and said he will veto it. Similar legislation is to be taken up Monday by the Senate, where its passage presents a formidable task for Democrats.

Mrs. Pelosi said the legislation — a $124 billion emergency war-funding bill that includes a pullout timetable and nearly $10 billion in nonmilitary and pork barrel spending — sent a message of solidarity to the American people and a message of support to U.S. troops.

“We know [the American people] have lost faith and confidence in the president’s conduct of this war,” Mrs. Pelosi said, adding that the funding for combat forces and for military health care demonstrated a commitment to the troops.

Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut, vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said the bill’s passage continued the movement begun with last year’s elections that swept Democrats into control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years.

“The American people found their voice in November,” Mr. Larson said. “The Congress found its voice today, but it couldn’t have happened without the leadership of Speaker Pelosi.”

At a White House press conference, Mr. Bush, who was accompanied by veterans and family members of U.S. troops, called the House vote an act of “political theater” that he said threatened to delay funds reaching the troops before money starts to run out April 15.

“This bill has too much pork, too many conditions and an artificial timetable for withdrawal,” said Mr. Bush, who has repeatedly called on Congress to give his nearly 30,000-troop surge a chance for success.

“Congress needs to send me a clean bill that I can sign without delay. I expect Congress to do its duty and to fund our troops, and so do the American people — and so do the good men and women standing with me here today.”

Critics say the pork barrel spending — $283 million in milk subsidies, $74 million in peanut subsidies and $25 million in spinach subsidies — does not belong in an emergency war-funding bill and served only to sell the Democrats’ pullout plan to skeptical lawmakers.

The House earlier this year passed a nonbinding resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s troop-reinforcements plan, but yesterday’s bill was the first binding measure to pass either chamber. It uses Congress’ power of the purse to force the administration to make changes.

Mrs. Pelosi struggled to line up the votes amid opposition from anti-war members who want the war ended sooner and conservative Blue Dogs who fear the bill will hurt the war effort.

Voting for the bill were 216 Democrats and two Republicans — Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Walter Jones of North Carolina. Of the 212 members who opposed the bill, 198 were Republicans and 14 were Democrats.

House Republicans, who characterized the bill as a declaration of defeat in the Iraq war, found a silver lining in their loss.

“By only losing a few Republicans on this vote, we have ensured that the policy of withdraw and defeat is a Democratic policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. “Our Republican leaders were able to hold our troops together.”

Still, Republicans bemoaned the defeatist message they said the bill sent to U.S. troops and the nation’s allies and enemies.

“We show weakness and the world knows it,” said Rep. Sam Johnson, Texas Republican and former prisoner of war in Vietnam.

He compared the bill to actions leading to the fall of Saigon in 1975, noting the decades of military and political malaise that followed the United States’ loss in Vietnam.

“That’s what happens when Congress cuts funding and we go home with our tail between our legs,” Mr. Johnson said.

The Senate is set to debate a similar $121 billion emergency war-spending bill Monday that would require troops to almost immediately start to leave Iraq with the goal of a complete pull out by March 2008.

Democratic leaders will need 60 votes to pass the legislation, requiring them to persuade about 12 Republicans to abandon their party’s stance. Republican leaders say even if their opponents pull off an unlikely Senate victory, they have enough votes to block efforts to override a veto.

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