- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

Senate and House Democrats yesterday announced competing legislation that for the first time would set deadlines to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq — by fall 2008 — provoking a veto threat from the White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her chamber’s measure, which accelerates the timetable for a pullout if the administration fails to certify that Iraq has met certain benchmarks for progress, will be attached to the nearly $100 billion in supplemental spending that President Bush is seeking this year for fighting in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

“Our bill calls for the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq so that we can focus more fully on the real war on terror, which is in Afghanistan,” the California Democrat said.

The House bill calls for U.S. troops to start pulling out of Iraq by March 2008 and complete the withdrawal within 180 days, or by September — less than two months before the elections for president, the House and a third of the Senate.

The Senate bill requires a “phased redeployment” of forces from Iraq with the goal of a complete withdrawal of combat troops by March 2008.

“The troops should not be policing a civil war,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said at a press conference to announce his chamber’s plan.

Republican leaders in both chambers said their caucuses were united in support of funding the troops and against moves to “micromanage” the war, which in Iraq is under the command of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.

“General Petraeus should be making the military decisions on the ground in Iraq and not Nancy Pelosi or John Murtha,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “We believe victory is the only option when it comes to Iraq.”

It remained vague whether the bills encroached on the president’s war powers as commander in chief. Republicans also questioned whether the restrictions on the president could be enforced.

“The president can ignore it,” a senior Senate Republican aide said. “What’s the ‘or else?’ ”

The White House announced Mr. Bush’s intention to veto the House bill while he traveled to Brazil aboard Air Force One.

“What we’re seeing here is an artificial, precipitous withdrawal from Iraq based on, unfortunately, politics in Washington, not conditions on the ground in Baghdad, Iraq,” Bush adviser Dan Bartlett told reporters accompanying the president.

The House proposal now must survive a gantlet of opposition on the left and the right before reaching the president’s veto pen.

Anti-war Democrats, whom Mrs. Pelosi has struggled to placate while not alienating the party’s conservative “Blue Dogs,” said the proposal didn’t go far enough. Many balked at the benchmarks that determine the withdrawal’s pace.

“They’re asking me to trust the president of the United States, who everybody agrees has mismanaged, has misled and has basically lied to us over and over again,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat and chairman of the 76-member Out of Iraq Caucus.

The caucus yesterday announced its own plan that would require all war funding go toward a complete troop withdrawal by Christmas.

But Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and outspoken war critic, said the threat of an earlier troop withdrawal — as soon as October if Iraq cannot meet benchmarks — will force the Iraqi government to “step up to the plate themselves.”

House Democrats have struggled to mend fissures in their caucus over Iraq and over the past week have floated a series of proposals to place varying degrees of restrictions on the funding bill. In the Senate, Democrats have pursued 17 different resolutions voicing opposition to the war with only one so far getting close to a vote.

Senate Republicans last month used a procedural move to block debate of that nonbinding resolution against Mr. Bush’s plan for a surge of 21,500 more troops into Iraq.

A similar fate may await the pullout resolution, which Republicans yesterday prevented from advancing in a form dictated by Mr. Reid.

The Senate’s Iraq debate is expected to begin next week.

The House bill could be marked up in committee as soon as next week and go to the House floor the following week.

The House last month passed a nonbinding resolution against the surge plan with the support of 17 Republicans, about half the number Democrats predicted would defect.

Last year, the country’s anti-war mood was credited in part with sweeping Democrats into control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years. Democratic leaders in both chambers yesterday cited popular opposition to the Iraq war.

“We are keeping faith with the voters asked for in November 2006,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and chairman of the party’s Senate campaign committee.

Christina Bellantoni and Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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