House Passes Iraq Pullout Timetable

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 24, 2007

A sharply divided House voted yesterday to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq by next summer, attaching a timetable for withdrawal to the billions of dollars in war funding President Bush has demanded to prosecute an increasingly unpopular war.

Within minutes of passage, Bush denounced the bill as "an act of political theater" and an abdication of responsibility, sternly repeating his pledge to veto it.

"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 president said. "The Democrats have sent their message. Now it's time to send their money."

But Democrats were in no mood to compromise after a 218 to 212 vote that largely united the fractious Democratic caucus behind one of the toughest antiwar measures ever to pass a house of Congress during combat operations. Just two Republicans, Reps. Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.) and Walter B. Jones (N.C.), voted in favor. Fourteen Democrats -- the party's most conservative members and its most liberal -- voted no.

The bill would establish strict standards for resting, training and equipping combat troops before their deployment and lay down binding benchmarks for the Iraqi government, such as assuming control of security operations, quelling sectarian violence and more equitably distributing oil revenue. If progress is not made toward those benchmarks, some troops would be required to come home as early as July. In any event, troop withdrawals would have to begin in March 2008, with all combat forces out by Aug. 31, 2008.

"We answered the call that so many families here in America were asking our Congress to do," said Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.), a former paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division who fought in Iraq and has become one of his party's leading spokesmen on the war. "No longer is this Congress going to stand idly by and watch our brave and heroic men and women go to referee a religious civil war."

"Proudly, this new Congress voted to bring an end to the war in Iraq," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who achieved by far the biggest victory of her three-month-old speakership.

The $124 billion legislation includes more than $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus billions more than Bush requested for combat equipment and training, for military housing and health care, to address the flaws in mental health care, brain trauma treatment and other issues that surfaced in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal. Billions more were added for veterans' care, agricultural assistance and drought relief, homeland security, and Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.

Members of both parties called it a historic vote, but for very different reasons. Democrats hailed it as the moment the people's house rose up after four years of war to demand an end to a conflict that has cost more than 3,200 American lives, countless Iraqi dead and nearly half a trillion tax dollars. Republicans labeled it a catastrophic call for surrender.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) disparaged the bill as "a poorly assembled wish list of non-emergency spending requests, wrapped in a date-certain declaration of defeat."

"We have our moment of truth," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told the House. "We have our opportunity to do what our forefathers have done, and that's to stand up, support our troops and to win, because the outcome of failure is actually too ominous to even think about."

With only two defections, an aggressive campaign by White House and Republican leaders to portray the bill as the product of Democratic partisanship appeared to have succeeded. The White House appears to be calculating that while the public is opposed to the war, it is also leery of Congress undermining the commander in chief.

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