"The World; Democrats unite on Iraq pullout plan; The bill sets no firm deadline and Bush will veto it. But it marks a historic challenge to a wartime president.
Source: Los Angeles Times 04/24/2007
Setting in motion a promised showdown with the White House, Democratic congressional leaders united Monday behind an emergency war spending measure that requires the president to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq no later than this fall.
The $124-billion compromise, which does not include a firm deadline for President Bush to complete a troop withdrawal, is headed for a certain veto.
But as Congress and the White House face off over the course of U.S. policy in Iraq, the agreement marked the prologue for a week that could produce the most serious legislative challenge to a wartime president since the Vietnam era.
The House and Senate, with the support of most Democrats, are expected to approve the measure by Thursday.
Bush, who has used his veto just once, to block an expansion of federal support for embryonic stem cell research, is expected to invoke that power again.
Democrats can't muster enough votes to override a veto. But they said they would keep up the pressure on Bush to end the U.S. combat role in the 4-year-old war, and hinted that they would send the president a funding bill without timelines for pulling out troops.
"We may not be able to prevent President Bush from vetoing our supplemental bill, but we can and will keep trying to change his mind," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Reid contrasted the Democratic proposal with what he called Bush's "mistakes and mismanagement."
"No more will Congress turn a blind eye to the Bush administration's incompetence and dishonesty," said Reid, who in recent months has become one of Congress' sharpest critics of the war.
Bush argues that setting dates for bringing troops home would allow America's enemies to wait out U.S. forces.
"Politicians in Washington shouldn't be telling generals how to do their job," Bush said after meeting at the White House with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq.
Petraeus, a highly respected combat veteran who has become the president's best salesman for the troop buildup, will brief lawmakers this week about the progress of Bush's plan.
"I will strongly reject an artificial timetable," Bush said, reiterating a promise he has made with increasing frequency as the confrontation between the two branches of government has intensified.
But Democrats, emboldened by public opposition to the war and disenchantment with Bush, show no signs of relenting in their campaign to compel the White House to start bringing U.S. troops home.
Nor does there appear to be much discord over the war in the famously fractious party. Even many of the war's staunchest congressional opponents, who had pressed to require a withdrawal by year's end, have signaled they will back the compromise worked out by Democratic leaders.
"What is important is not the specific language.... What is important is the unity we express," said Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who heads the House Appropriations Committee and is one of the architects of the compromise.
Reaching a deal
A few weeks ago, it was unclear whether House and Senate Democrats would be able to agree to any timeline to withdraw U.S. forces.
Senate Democrats narrowly passed a spending bill with a timeline that demanded troop withdrawals to begin within 120 days of enactment.
But they avoided a deadline to complete the pullout, in deference to moderates who feared imposing too many limitations on the military.
The plan set a nonbinding goal of completing the withdrawal by March 31.
In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and her lieutenants were forced to toughen the timelines to accommodate lawmakers on the other end of the ideological spectrum.
The House plan, which was considerably more complicated, set out a mandatory timeline linked to the Iraqi government's progress in disarming militias. It also amended the Iraqi constitution and took steps to reduce sectarian strife.
The House required Bush to complete the withdrawal by August 2008, or earlier if the Iraqi government failed to show progress.
In a nod to moderate Senate Democrats, the compromise approved Monday sets a nonbinding goal for completing a withdrawal.
But it maintains the link between the withdrawal timeline and the performance of the Iraqi government.
The compromise calls for a withdrawal to begin July 1 if Bush does not certify that the Iraqi government is making progress on a series of "reconciliation initiatives," with a goal of completing the withdrawal within 180 days, which would end Dec. 27.
If Bush demonstrates that the Iraqi government is making progress, the Democratic plan mandates that the withdrawal begin Oct. 1, and sets a goal to complete the pullout by March 28.
Like the earlier House and Senate proposals, the compromise allows some U.S. troops to remain to train Iraqi forces, protect American interests and conduct limited counter-terrorism operations.
It also requires Bush to explain why he is deploying military units abroad if the forces have not met readiness standards, including adequate training and rest at their home bases.
Democrats responded to one of Bush's key criticisms of the legislation. They stripped out money for spinach farmers and peanut storage, which the president had ridiculed as pork-barrel spending.
But they retained billions of dollars for non-military spending, including money to rebuild the Gulf Coast, to combat the threat of bird flu and to help the agriculture industry, including dairy farmers.
The plan was quickly approved by a conference committee of senior House and Senate lawmakers.
There were few signs of dissent among Democrats.
"This will work for now," said Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a moderate who cast a crucial vote for the Senate bill last month. "When you know the next three chess moves, you go ahead and play."
Republican lawmakers disparaged the Democratic proposal, complaining that it micromanages the war and emboldens terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere.
But with the legislation headed for a veto, Republican lawmakers have shown little inclination to try to derail it.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) said he hoped Democrats would swiftly pass the measure so Bush could veto it and lawmakers could put together a funding bill without timelines to withdraw troops.
"We all know this bill is going nowhere fast," Lewis said. "