The U.S House of Representatives takes up legislation Thursday to fund ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq no later than September 2008. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, majority Democrats have fought hard to ensure they have the votes to pass the bill, which President Bush has threatened to veto in its current form
Democrats need 218 votes in the 435-member chamber for the legislation, based on President Bush's original "emergency supplemental" request, to pass.
Its cost has risen dramatically, as Democratic leaders tacked on billions in additional dollars for purposes ranging from improving health care for wounded soldiers, to homeland security and other domestic needs such as hurricane relief.
Totaling $124 billion, $21 billion more than the president asked for, the bill contains money for Iraqi security forces, general funding for the war on terrorism, and $1.3 billion for military and development needs in Afghanistan.
Also included is $100 million in security assistance funds for Jordan, and $40 million for Liberia.
House majority leader Steny Hoyer addressed reporters on the eve of the debate. "This Congress for the first time in four years, will have the opportunity to change America's course in Iraq, not to impinge upon the commander, General Petraeus, or any of his people on the ground in how they tactically or strategically respond to threats or to accomplish the mission that has been set for them. This does not undermine that in any way," he said.
Controversial provisions involve an effort to tie funding to troop readiness requirements, and restrictions on the duration of military deployments.
In essence, these would put the president on the spot by requiring him to submit reports to Congress if he decides to send military units to Iraq that are not fully trained or equipped.
Democrats say requirements that troops be "fully mission capable" are already part of defense department policy, asserting they are merely trying to force adherence to existing guidelines.
On the House floor, Republicans will strongly oppose this, as they have for weeks calling it an effort to micro-manage military commanders.
Republicans accuse Democrats of ignoring what they say are signs President Bush's troop surge in Iraq has yielded results.
Georgia Republican Tom Price says Democrats are only hastening a U.S. defeat in Iraq. "This Iraq supplemental bill is just one more step in what has become a long list of unprecedented attempts by this majority to accept defeat at any cost," he said.
Democrat Carol Shea Porter has a different view. "Supporting our troops means getting them out of a civil war," she said.
President Bush would also be required to certify that Iraqi leaders are making what it calls meaningful and substantial progress meeting political and military benchmarks, including disarming militias, and a plan to equitably share oil revenues.
As the House debate gets under way, the Senate Appropriations Committee will meet to approve a draft of a similar version containing just under three billion dollars less than the other chamber.
That measure would require the president to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq within four months of passage, and sets a non-binding goal of ending U.S. combat operations in Iraq by March of 2008.
A resolution containing similar language, brought to a vote by Senate Democrats last week, was narrowly rejected 50 to 48.