The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has approved a measure to provide $50 billion in short-term funding for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. VOA's Dan Robinson reports the legislation, which passed the House by a vote of 218 to 203, now awaits a vote in the Senate where Republicans have predicted it will not pass, and also faces a veto threat from President Bush.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders wanted to bring up the legislation as early as last week, but were forced to delay until late Wednesday to round up sufficient votes. They eventually persuaded the most vocal anti-war Democrats, who favor specific mandatory troop withdrawal timelines, to support the measure, which calls for transitioning U.S. forces away from combat, and opposes extending or prolonging the war. In exchange for short-term funding, Democrats would require the president to begin withdrawing U.S. troops within 30 days of enactment. They set only a goal of pulling most combat forces out by December 15, 2008.
But this brought a renewed veto threat from the White House, where press secretary Dana Perino briefed reporters.
"Once again they plan to send the president a bill that they know he will veto. This is for political posturing and to appease radical groups," she said.
Fifty billion dollars would pay for about four months of military operations and without the money, the Pentagon would have to begin dipping into its regular budget to pay for military operations. The Democrat's measure also directs that funds be used only to protect U.S. forces and American diplomats on the ground, for counter-terrorism, and what is called limited training, equipment and logistical support for Iraqi security forces, and attempts to set strict rules against the use of torture of terrorist suspects. Republicans assailed it, asserting Democrats want to tie the hands of military commanders at a time when President Bush's military surge strategy seems to be bringing a downturn in violence in Baghdad.
"The tide is turning in Iraq. We are seeing far more than pockets of success. We are seeing a dramatic shift in the landscape," said California Republican David Dreier, who spoke on the House floor.
Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern cautioned against putting too much faith in recent statistics.
"Let me caution my friends about declaring "mission accomplished" yet again. While all of us pray that the violence continues to subside, we should also appreciate history enough to know that lulls in intense violence are not always permanent," he said. "And let me also state that the current levels of violence in Iraq are still unacceptably high."
Secretary of States Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were on Capitol Hill Wednesday to brief lawmakers on Iraq, and pressing hard against the Democratic measure. Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin provided this assessment of what he learned in that meeting.
"It is very clear that there are no plans to bring any substantial number of American troops home soon. In fact, the only projection to reach pre-surge levels is well into next year," he said.
In the Senate, the Democratic measure faced an uphill battle because a 60-vote majority is required in the 100 member chamber to overcome procedural hurdles that block approval. Senate Republicans Wednesday introduced their own alternative legislation to provide $70 billion, but without any policy restrictions.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid made clear this week while they have been unable to attract Republican support for strong withdrawal provisions through numerous votes this year, Democrats have no intention of giving up.
"We are going to continue until the course if changed, to change course in Iraq, for the military and for the American taxpayer," he said.
Democrats deliberately put off action on President Bush's larger $196 billion request, saying that if the president rejected their short-term measure, there would likely be no further action on war funding in this congressional session. In the unlikely event President Bush signed an interim funding bill emerging from Congress, Democratic leaders would bring up additional funding increments next year, but stress they do not intend to give the president a blank check for military operations for the remainder of his time in office.