House Democrats link war funds to troop withdrawal

$50 billion tied to call for exit by Dec. '08

if plan passes Senate, Bush likely to veto it

November 15, 2007|By Mike Dorning | Mike Dorning,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats moved toward a renewed confrontation with the Bush administration over the war in Iraq as the House voted last night to tie $50 billion in new war funding to a call for most U.S. troops to withdraw by December 2008.

Republicans have promised to resist the funding package in the Senate, where GOP lawmakers repeatedly have used procedural maneuvers to block previous attempts to impose limits on President Bush's conduct of the war. The White House has signaled it would veto the legislation if it does pass the Senate.

The new war-funding clash offers congressional Democrats a chance to demonstrate opposition to the war at a time when the party's anti-war base is discontented with the Democratic congressional majority's failure to change Bush's war strategy.

The legislation also puts Republicans up for re-election next year on record again as defying efforts to end the unpopular war.

The Maryland delegation voted along party lines. Democratic Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Chris Van Hollen and Albert R. Wynn supported the measure.

"Given the facts, given the evidence, given our experiences over the last four and one-half years, it is long past time for a new direction in Iraq," Hoyer said before the vote. "That is precisely what this legislation represents."

Republican Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Wayne T. Gilchrest voted against it.

In recent months, congressional Democrats have relented and passed war funding measures without a withdrawal timetable, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, threatened on the eve of the House vote that if Republicans block funding that contains restrictions, "the president won't get his $50 billion."

Still, fractures were evident among House Democrats on the funding package, with anti-war liberals opposing new resources for Bush's war policy while moderates in the party were wary of tying the hands of military commanders. Party leaders interrupted debate shortly before the vote with a parliamentary maneuver to force members to come to the House floor so they could recount votes and lobby wavering lawmakers.

The $50 billion funding package -- passed by the House 218-203, largely along party lines -- provides about a quarter of the $196 billion that Bush has requested to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the year ahead, enough to pay for about three or four months. Without the additional funds, money for the war will run out early next year.

The bill requires Bush to begin troop withdrawals within 30 days of passage and sets a goal of bringing home most troops by Dec. 15, 2008.

It also effectively bans the use of waterboarding, in which terror suspects have the sensation of drowning, as well as other harsh interrogation techniques that have been criticized as torture, by requiring all government agencies to abide by the Army Field Manual, which explicitly forbids such methods.

By funding only a portion of the president's request, the legislation is also structured to force another vote on war funding next spring.

White House press secretary Dana Perino condemned the legislation as "political posturing ... to appease radical groups.

"The Democrats believe that these votes will somehow punish the president, but it actually punishes the troops," she said.

Hours before the vote, the White House sent Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Capitol to urge lawmakers to oppose the legislation.

Mike Dorning writes for the Chicago Tribune. Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article.

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