- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

1:16 p.m.

House Democrats today announced legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the fall of next year.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the deadline would be added to legislation providing nearly $100 billion that the Bush administration has requested for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She told reporters that the measure would mark the first time the new Democratic-controlled Congress has established a “date certain” for the end of U.S. combat in the four-year-old war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,100 U.S. troops.

Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the proposal would bring an “orderly and responsible close” to American participation in what he called an Iraqi “civil war.”

According to an explanation of the measure distributed by Democratic aides, the timetable for withdrawal would be accelerated if the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not meet goals for providing for Iraq’s security.

Mrs. Pelosi made her announcement as Senate Democrats reviewed a different approach — a measure that would set a goal of a troop withdrawal by March 2008. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called a closed-door meeting of the rank-and-file to consider the measure.

In the House, Mrs. Pelosi and the leadership have struggled in recent days to come up with an approach on the war that would satisfy liberals reluctant to vote for continued funding without driving away more moderate Democrats unwilling to be seen as tying the hands of military commanders.

The decision to impose conditions on the war risks a major confrontation with the Bush administration and its Republican allies in Congress.

But without a unified party, the Democratic leadership faced the possibility of a highly embarrassing defeat when the spending legislation reaches a vote, likely later this month.

To make the overall measure more attractive politically, Democrats also intend to add $1.2 billion to President Bush’s request for military operations in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is expected to mount a spring offensive.

The bill also will exceed Mr. Bush’s request for veterans’ health care and medical programs for active duty troops at facilities such as the scandal-scarred Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Democrats also are including funds for a health care program for low-income children. The program is popular among governors of both political parties, but the administration has not signaled its acquiescence to the additional money.

As described by Democrats, the legislation will require Mr. Bush to certify by July 1 and again by Oct. 1. whether the Iraqi government is making progress toward providing for the country’s security, allocating its oil revenues and creating a fair system for amending its constitution.

They said if Mr. Bush certified the Iraqis were meeting these so-called benchmarks, U.S. combat troops would have to begin withdrawing by March 1, 2008, and complete the redeployment by Sept. 1.

Otherwise, the deadlines would move up.

If Mr. Bush cannot make the required certification by July 1, troops must begin a six-month withdrawal immediately. If the president cannot make the second certification, the same six-month timetable would apply.

The legislation also requires the Pentagon to adhere to its existing standards for equipping and training U.S. troops sent overseas and for providing time at home between tours of combat.

Mrs. Pelosi said the provision was designed to make sure the government would “not be sending our troops into battle without the proper training, the proper equipment.”

Yet it also permits Mr. Bush to issue waivers of these standards. Democrats described the waiver provision as an attempt to embarrass the president into adhering to the standards, but they concede that the overall effect would be to permit the administration to proceed with plans to deploy five additional combat brigades to the Baghdad area during the next few months.

The measure emerged from days of private talks among Democrats after the collapse of Rep. John P. Murtha’s original proposal, which would have required the Pentagon to meet readiness and training standards without the possibility of a waiver.

The Pennsylvania Democrat and chairman of a House Appropriations military subcommittee, said its implementation would have starved the war effort of troops because the Pentagon would not have been able to find enough fully rested, trained and equipped units to meet its needs.

Several moderate Democrats spoke out against it, though, and Republicans sharply attacked it as the abandonment of troops already in the war zone.


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