The House of Representatives has soundly rejected an attempt by opposition Democrats to require President Bush to send Congress a plan for a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. Debate over the issue came during House consideration of legislation overwhelmingly approved by a vote 390 to 39, authorizing just over $490-billion in spending on defense and other needs for the 2006 fiscal year.
The proposal by Democratic Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey was among nearly 30 amendments to the defense authorization bill.
It was also the latest effort by some House Democrats who want President Bush to do something he has firmly refused to do: provide a plan for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq. "Congress must support our troops, and we must begin the difficult recovery process from a long and destructive war. But first the president must create a plan to bring our troops home. Our troops deserve nothing less," he said.
Congresswoman Woolsey said she was not trying to dishonor American forces, or the risks Iraqis took in going to the polls earlier this year.
However, Republicans said the proposal, although it would have been non-binding, was ill-timed just before the national Memorial Day holiday honoring present-day and past sacrifices of American servicemen and women.
A strong response came from Congressman Duncan Hunter, Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who said the amendment would have sent the wrong message to insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, and to U.S. soldiers. "It's a message sender to our troops who might feel if this amendment should pass, that the resolve of the American people is fading away. This is precisely the kind of message we do not want to send to friend and foe alike, and certainly not to the 140-thousand Americans serving presently in Iraq who feel that the country is strongly behind them," he said.
The House also overwhelmingly approved an amendment reversing an earlier decision in a House committee setting limits on the roles of women in supporting U.S. military operations.
The Pentagon said such restrictions risked undermining morale, and would have a negative impact on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The defense authorization bill contains about $49-billion to help the U.S. military maintain operations until President Bush sends another emergency supplemental request to Congress.
These supplemental requests have been criticized by lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, who have urged the administration to build Iraq and Afghanistan war costs into regular annual budget planning.
Congress earlier approved and President Bush signed into law the last emergency supplemental, containing about $82-billion, earlier this year, pushing spending on the global war on terrorism, including Iraq and Afghanistan, to more than $300-billion.
The legislation also contains provisions, prepared during the last session of Congress, to add 10,000 soldiers to the U.S. Army, and 1,000 Marines, as well as a three percent pay increase.
After and despite emotional debate on Pentagon plans to shut down 33 military bases as part of longer-term money-saving efforts, the House rejected an amendment by Republican Congressman Jeb Bradley to delay closures for one year.
Although the House legislation authorizes 490-billion dollars for defense spending, Congress must still act later this year to actually appropriate the funds as part of the annual congressional budgetary approval process for the government.