Friday, April 27, 2007

The Democrat-led Senate yesterday gave final approval to an emergency war-funding bill that sets troop withdrawal deadlines for Iraq, a measure that neither congressional chamber passed with enough votes to override President Bush’s promised veto.

“We hope the president will reconsider his stubbornness and his refusal to listen to the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Democratic leaders did not indicate how they would proceed after Mr. Bush rejects the bill that he says gives the enemy an information advantage and usurps his commander-in-chief powers by dictating war strategy. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said a breakthrough in the war-funding impasse is unlikely before Congress takes a weeklong Memorial Day recess next month.

“The hand has not come across the aisle thus far on this issue, and for that matter, the hand hasn’t come across the aisle all year,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

The Senate passed the $124 billion war-funding bill on a 51-46 vote, with two Republicans joining the Democratic majority in support of the legislation, which also mandates a troop pullout start no later than October or as soon as July if Iraqis do not meet certain policy benchmarks.

Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon voted for the bill.

“I do not believe the current policy we have in Iraq is worthy of the sacrifices our troops are making, and I will not continue to support it,” Mr. Hagel said. “We need a change of policy.”

The lone member of the Democratic caucus to vote against it was Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, who blasted his colleagues for saying U.S. troops don’t belong in the middle of Iraq’s “civil war.”

“Al Qaeda’s own leaders have repeatedly said that one of the ways they intend to achieve victory in Iraq is to provoke civil war,” he said in the floor debate. “They know that this is their best way to collapse Iraq’s political center, overthrow Iraq’s elected government, radicalize its population and create a failed state in the heart of the Middle East that they can use as a base.”

In Baghdad, an Iraqi government spokesman criticized Congress’ actions.

“We see some negative signs in the decision because it sends wrong signals to some sides that might think of alternatives to the political process,” Ali al-Dabbagh told the Associated Press.

“Coalition forces gave lots of sacrifices, and they should continue their mission, which is building Iraqi security forces to take over,” Mr. al-Dabbagh said. “We see [it] as a loss of four years of sacrifices.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, touted an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted this week that showed 56 percent of voters side with Democrats in Congress on setting a troop-withdrawal deadline, while 37 percent back Mr. Bush.

However, the country is divided along party lines on the war.

A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey this week showed 54 percent of Democrats favor either an immediate pullout or a firm deadline to withdraw from Iraq, but 57 percent of Republican voters oppose both restrictions on war strategy.

Negotiations on war funding could begin anew as early as next week after Mr. Bush’s veto, which he vowed because the pullout timetable “handcuffs our generals.” He also has questioned the bill’s $20 billion in added nonmilitary spending, including pork-barrel projects.

Neither Democrats in Congress nor the White House and its Republican allies on Capitol Hill show any sign of backing down from the standoff that threatens to stall the $100 billion needed to fund the war until the end of the budget year in September.

The Pentagon last week started raiding other military accounts to pay for combat operations until July.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino lashed out at Democrats for reportedly manipulating the war debate for political gains and possibly tying it to the fourth anniversary of Mr. Bush’s “mission accomplished” speech on Tuesday.

“That is the height of cynicism, and absolutely so unfortunate for the men and women in uniform and their families who are watching the debate,” Mrs. Perino said at a White House press conference. “You would hope that that is not true, although it does make you wonder.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called on Democrats to submit the bill to Mr. Bush by last night.

“Not tomorrow, not next Monday, but today,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mrs. Perino said that when the president spoke from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with a large banner behind him that said “Mission Accomplished,” he was not announcing the end of the war, but rather the end of major combat operations and of the Lincoln’s tour of duty.

“I have a feeling I’m on the losing end of this battle, because the left has decided to believe what they want to believe, which is that the president was saying that the war was over and the troops were coming home. That’s not what he said,” Mrs. Perino said.

Congressional Democrats said they were heeding the American people’s call to end the war.

Under the legislation, the troop withdrawal would commence July 1 if the Iraqi government does not meet benchmarks, including reducing sectarian violence, establishing a militia-disarmament program and enacting laws to share oil revenue. If Iraqis satisfy the benchmarks, the troops would start to pull out Oct. 1 with a goal of most troops coming home by next April.

The Democratic strategy would limit combat operations by rolling back security patrols by the U.S. military in sectarian hot spots and by barring participation in the systematic search for insurgents — tasks typically determined by commanders on the ground and Mr. Bush as the commander in chief.

Mr. McConnell said the pullout deadline signaled a U.S. surrender in a battlefront of the war on terrorism.

“If we cannot win this battle, how can we ever win the war?” he said.

• Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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