The appropriations committee of the House of Representatives has voted [36 to 28] to approve Democratic-crafted legislation calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq no later than September of 2008. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the vote moves the measure to the full House which is expected to take it up next week.
Democrats went into the session confident they would have the votes to advance a spending package, which, in addition to setting a date for U.S. withdrawal, includes more than $95 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, plus billions more for domestic and homeland security needs.
In setting a timetable, Democrats seek to condition funding for military operations in Iraq on requirements that troops the president would deploy be fully equipped and trained and that the duration of their deployments be limited.
The White House has said the president would not oppose provisions requiring him to report to Congress on troop readiness.
Congressman John Murtha argued for the provision:
"Is there anybody here that believes we should send troops into combat, without equipment, without the equipment they need, without the training they need? However, President Bush remains strongly opposed to any timetable, and has issued a threat to veto any funding bill containing the timetable language," said John Murtha.
On the threat of a presidential veto, White House spokesman Tony Snow Thursday referred only to a Senate resolution now being debated that calls for a withdrawal of U.S. forces by March of 2008.
During the multi-hour House committee debate, Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis stood firm in opposing language setting a withdrawal timetable:
"This legislation ties the hands of our commander-in-chief during a time of war, [tries to put] military decisions in the hands of politicians instead of the military, and attempts to buy votes for its passage," said Jerry Lewis.
The Democratic panel chairman David Obey argued that the legislation attempts to place pressure on Iraqis to take over responsibility for their own country:
"What it does is to put Congress in the role of bad cop, trying to deliver a message to the politicians in Iraq that we are not going to sit around forever watching them dither, watching them refuse to compromise, while our troops continue to die as they are involved in an Iraqi civil war," said David Obey.
Democrats were able to vote down a Republican attempt to strip out the provision calling for a 2008 timeline for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
Democratic leaders also faced demands by liberal members of their party urging an earlier withdrawal date - by the end of this year.
California Democrat Barbara Lee:
"The American people overwhelmingly oppose the escalation, and Congress just voted against it, and it makes no sense for us to turn around and provide funds for it," said Barbara Lee.
Congressman Obey responded that the Democratic leadership faces the task of accommodating divergent views in order to get the 218 votes needed for approval in the full House:
"We have to try and find a tipping point that will enable us to actually move legislation forward," he said.
Of the $95 billion in the defense portion of the $124-billion measure, Democrats add hundreds of millions of dollars for reconstruction and counter-terrorism needs in Afghanistan.
Seven hundred seventy nine million dollars goes to assist the government of Lebanon, $100 million for security needs in Jordan, and $361 million for aid to Sudan, including money for the African Union peacekeeping force.
Several billion dollars go to improve the military health system to improve care for active duty troops and veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The measure also contains billions of dollars for a range of domestic items, which triggered Republican complaints during Thursday's committee debate.