Sparks Fly Over Iraq Vote

bush iraq vote CBS

A sharply divided House of Representatives delivered a stinging rebuke to President Bush on Friday, voting to order him to bring combat troops home from Iraq by the fall of next year.

Just over an hour later, an angry Mr. Bush accused Democrats of staging nothing more than an "act of political theater" and said that if the spending bill is not approved and signed into law by April 15, troops and their families "will face significant disruptions."

Ignoring Mr. Bush's promised veto, lawmakers voted 218-212, mostly along party lines, for a binding war spending bill requiring that combat operations cease before September 2008, or earlier if the Iraqi government does not meet certain requirements. Democrats said it was time to heed the mandate of their election sweep last November, which gave them control of Congress.

"The American people have lost faith in the president's conduct of this war," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "The American people see the reality of the war, the president does not."

Joined at the White House by veterans and service family members, Mr. Bush said: "A narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law and brings us no closer to getting the troops the resources they need to do their job.

"These Democrats believe that the longer they can delay funding for our troops, the more likely they are to force me to accept restrictions on our commanders, an artificial timetable for withdrawal and their pet spending projects. This is not going to happen."

The House vote, echoing clashes between lawmakers and the White House over the Vietnam War four decades ago, pushed the Democratic-led Congress a step closer to a constitutional collision with the wartime commander in chief. Mr. Bush has insisted that lawmakers allow more time for his strategy of sending nearly 30,000 additional troops to Iraq to work.

CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports that the bill also requires troops get a year's rest between tours of duty — making it difficult to maintain the President's troop surge.

The roll call also marked a triumph for Pelosi, who labored in recent days to bring together a Democratic caucus deeply divided over the war. Some of the party's more liberal members voted against the bill because they said it would not end the war immediately, while more conservative Democrats said they were reluctant to take away flexibility from generals in the field.

But to get enough members of their own party on board, Attkisson reports, Democrats practically had to buy votes by tacking on billion of dollars in pet projects that have nothing to do with the War on terror — including special-interest money for spinach, tropical fish, citrus ... $13 billion worth in all.

Republicans were almost completely unified in their fight against the bill, which they said was tantamount to admitting failure in Iraq.

"The stakes in Iraq are too high and the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families too great to be content with anything but success," said Republican Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Voting for the bill were 216 Democrats and two Republicans — Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Walter Jones of North Carolina. Of the 212 members who opposed the bill, 198 were Republicans and 14 were Democrats.

The bill marks the first time Congress has used its budget power to try to end the war, now in its fifth year, by attaching the withdrawal requirements to a bill providing $124 billion to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of this year.

Excluding the funds in the House-passed bill, Congress has so far provided more than $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including about $350 billion for Iraq alone, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. More than 3,200 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since war began in March 2003.

The next step is up to the Senate, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss. Democrats there are backing a bill that has already passed out of committee and funds the war with an even tighter troop pullout deadline — one year instead of 18 months.

They don't have the 60 votes to pass it, but Republicans don't have 60 to fund the war without conditions, either — meaning that will be the first place to start looking for some kind of compromise between letting the president make all the decisions about the war and having Congress decide when it will end.

Attkisson reports that there "no way" the Senate will pass any bill with a firm deadline. The most likely scenario, she says, is that in the end Congress compromises and that President Bush and the troops get their funding — with no deadline.

In Friday's House debate, Democrats said it was time for them to begin influencing the war's path.

"The American public expects the Congress of the United States to do something," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "Not simply to say 'yes' to failed policies, but to on their behalf, speak out and try to take us in a new direction."

"What we're trying to do in this legislation is force the Iraqis to fight their own war," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who had helped write the bill.

With Democrats holding 233 seats and Republicans with 201, Democrats were able to afford only 15 "no" votes. Accordingly, Pelosi, and her leadership team spent days trying to convince members that the bill was Congress' best chance of forcing Bush to change course. To aid the argument, they added more than $20 billion in domestic spending — labeled pork by detractors — in an effort to lure votes.

They got a breakthrough Thursday when four of the bill's most consistent critics said they would not stand in its way. California Democrats Lynn Woolsey, Diane Watson, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters said they would help round up support for the bill despite their intention to personally vote against it because it would not end the war immediately.

"Despite my steadfast opposition, I have told the speaker that I will work with her to obtain the needed votes to pass the supplemental, but that in the end I must vote my conscience," said Watson.

The Iraq deadline created an unusual dynamic in the sharply partisan Congress. Bush loyalists teamed up with some anti-war liberals in opposing the measure. Conservatives said a firm deadline for the war would tie the hands of military commanders and embolden insurgents after the U.S. left Iraq, whereas many liberals said the bill would continue to bankroll an immoral war for more than a year.

"If you want peace, stop funding this war," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.

"Approval of it means we vote to abandon Iraq at an arbitrary time no matter the situation, said Republican Rep. Ted Poe. It's also "loaded with squealing pork that has nothing to do with our troops or the war," added Poe, R-Texas, referring to the billions of dollars added to the bill to fund domestic programs and attract votes.

But members said Pelosi was able to convince liberal members of her caucus that the legislation was their best shot at challenging the president on the war, even if it fails to become law.

  • Alfonso Serrano

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