Liberals Relent on Iraq War Funding

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By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007

Liberal opposition to a $124 billion war spending bill broke last night, when leaders of the antiwar Out of Iraq Caucus pledged to Democratic leaders that they will not block the measure, which sets timelines for bringing U.S. troops home.

The acquiescence of the liberals probably means that the House will pass a binding measure today that, for the first time, would establish tough readiness standards for the deployment of combat forces and an Aug. 31, 2008, deadline for their removal from Iraq.

A Senate committee also passed a spending bill yesterday setting a goal of bringing troops home within a year. The developments mark congressional Democrats' first real progress in putting legislative pressure on President Bush to withdraw U.S. forces.

Even more than the conservative Democrats leery of appearing to micromanage the war, House liberals have been the main obstacle to leadership efforts to put a timeline on the withdrawal of U.S. forces. They have complained that the proposal would not bring troops home fast enough. Their opposition has riven the antiwar movement, split the Democratic base and been the main stumbling block to the legislation, which had originally been scheduled for a vote yesterday.

As debate began on the bill yesterday, members of the antiwar caucus and party leaders held a backroom meeting in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a final plea to the group, asking it to deliver at least four votes when the roll is called. The members promised 10.

"I find myself in the excruciating position of being asked to choose between voting for funding for the war or establishing timelines to end it," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). "I have struggled with this decision, but I finally decided that, while I cannot betray my conscience, I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war."

That was the message of Democratic leaders: This is the best deal they could make, and it is better than no deal at all.

At a meeting of Democratic vote counters yesterday, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) quoted the Yogi Berra line "When you reach a fork in the road, take it."

"We're at the fork in the road," Emanuel said.

Shortly after, Out of Iraq Caucus leaders decided to break the pact that members had made to stick together against the bill. "We have released people who have been pained by all this," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). "We told them we don't want them to be in a position of undermining Nancy's speakership."

To many in the movement against the Iraq war, the liberal opposition to the bill was as maddening as it was mystifying.

"You really have two options here: One is that you can vote for a change of course here and say we're going to find a way out of Iraq, or, two, you can vote against it and hand George Bush a victory," said Jon Soltz, a veteran of the Iraq war and co-founder of VoteVets.org, a group that opposes the war. "It doesn't make sense to me. George Bush got us into the war. They have challenged him on everything. Why would they give him this victory now?" he asked, referring to the liberals.


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