Majority Democrats in the House of Representatives suffered a defeat Thursday, in a vote rejecting a portion of legislation to provide money requested by President Bush for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, Republicans opposed the measure, which the president had threatened to veto.
With many lawmakers, mostly Republicans, voting present, and a majority of House Democrats voting against war spending, House Democratic leaders ended up with a 149 to 141 defeat of the Iraq/Afghanistan funding portion of the legislation.
House Democratic leaders had combined billions of dollars President Bush asked for last year, in a package consisting of three amendments, including troop withdrawal and other policy language, and aid for war veterans and domestic spending, in a measure totaling nearly $184 billion.
About $162 billion of that was to fund military operations for the remainder of 2008 and the first few months of 2009, with about $21 billion for add-on items.
In what is the final war supplemental bill to be voted on by Congress under President Bush, Republicans such as California's David Dreier were angered that Democrats bypassed the normal committee approval process. "One by one the Democratic leadership has trampled the rules and traditions of this body, in an effort to shut down debate, cut both Republicans and Democrats out of the process, and jam through poorly-constructed bills that rarely if ever become public law," he said.
Republicans also assailed a proposal to increase taxes on wealthy Americans to help pay for enhanced education benefits for war veterans, and a provision to expand unemployment benefits for Americans who have lost jobs.
Democratic House appropriations chairman David Obey responded. "A one half of one percent increase in taxes for the most fortunate people in this society who make more than one million bucks a year. If you think that is even a close question, whether we ought to put the GI's before those fortunate folks, than it is no wonder you [Republicans] lost the [congressional House] seat in Mississippi a few days ago," he said.
In a second 227 to 196 vote, the House approved language calling for U.S. troops in Iraq to begin withdrawing within 30 days of enactment, to be completed by December 2009.
This section also included a ban on the use of torture in interrogations, prohibiting permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, requiring Iraq to pay more for reconstruction, and a demand that Congress authorize future bilateral agreements with Iraq.
A third vote approved 256 to 166 the $52 billion 10-year expansion of education benefits for war veterans and enhanced unemployment benefits for Americans facing job loss, and more than $2 billion in international food, disaster and refugee aid.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the debate as another contrast between Democrats, and Republicans and the Bush administration. "President Bush and the Republicans in Congress insist on a war without end in Iraq. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans across the country, but sadly too few Republicans in this House, are insisting on a new direction, a new direction that strengthens the military by ending the war in Iraq," she said.
"I think that what we are doing here is we are playing political games on the backs of our troops. You know it! All this bill is going to do is delay the process for weeks and weeks while we play political games, because you know the president is not going to sign this bill," said Republican minority leader John Boehner.
The White House Thursday repeated a presidential veto threat, criticizing attached domestic spending, and saying it would impose artificial withdrawal timelines on the military. With House Democrat's defeat on the main war funding portion, it will now be up to the Senate to craft the money into its version, which the Senate Appropriations Committee was also considering on Thursday.
Differences will eventually have to be resolved in negotiations before any bill goes to the president for signature.