- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

The Senate yesterday approved a bill calling for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq within a year, advancing the Democrat-controlled Congress toward a veto standoff with President Bush while money for troops starts to run out.

Democrats hailed the 51-47 vote, mainly along party lines, as a victory for “the American people” and promised to begin quickly reconciling differences with the House, which passed a more sweeping measure a week ago.

The House’s $124 billion bill, passed last week, set a September 2008 deadline to get all combat troops out of Iraq. The Senate bill mandates the pullout start 120 days after enactment with a goal of complete withdrawal by next March.

Mr. Bush called the $123 billion defense funding bill adopted yesterday — with its veto-provoking pullout deadline and billions of dollars in non-war spending including many pork projects — a blow to U.S. troops. He wants Congress to pass a “clean” funding bill that he can sign before April 15, when a lack of money will threaten troop training, equipment repair and prolong war zone deployments.

Negotiators from both chambers were scheduled to begin trying to reconcile the bills as early as last night. Congress begins a recess today that runs until April 16 for the House and April 10 for the Senate, making it unlikely they will beat the April 15 deadline.

“The Army has told us that they will have to begin curtailing some training here at home for Guard, Reserve,” Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee yesterday.

He said that will reduce units’ capabilities and “it will take them longer to be ready and could, over time, delay their availability to go back into combat.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, was pleased with passage. “What is in this bill regarding Iraq is what the American people said they wanted on Nov. 7 and what they have said in a more amplified manner since then,” he said.

Republicans say they have the votes to sustain a veto, and the narrow passage of the bills — the House’s version passed by only 218-212 — indicates they can. Two-thirds of each house must vote to override a veto.

Two Republican senators, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, voted with the Democrats , along with Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, voted with the Republicans.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a member of the Democratic leadership who managed the bill on the floor, said the withdraw deadline forces Iraqis to take responsibility of their own country and its civil war.

“Our troops have done everything we’ve asked them to do, and now it’s time to start bringing them home,” she said.

By both imposing a deadline and providing $90 billion for troops, the bill allows Democrats to please their anti-war base while showing others that they are willing to fund U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush argues that the measure demonstrates that Democrats are trying to “micromanage” military operations, undermining his authority as commander in chief.

“When we’ve got commanders making tough decisions on the ground, we expect there to be no strings on our commanders, and that we expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people’s money,” said Mr. Bush, after a rare meeting with most House Republicans yesterday at the White House.

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