Congress Bows to Bush, OKs Iraq Funds
Friday, May 25, 2007; 2:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Bowing to President Bush, the Democratic-controlled Congress grudgingly approved fresh billions for the Iraq war Thursday night, minus the troop withdrawal timeline that drew his earlier veto.
"The Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice," said the commander in chief, and he warned that August could prove to be a bloody month for U.S. troops in Baghdad's murderous neighborhoods.
The Senate's 80-14 vote to send the legislation to the president came less than two hours after the House gave its approval on a margin of 280-142. In both cases, Republicans supplied the bulk of the support, an oddity in an era of Democratic control.
Democrats in both houses coupled their concession with pledges to challenge Bush's his policies anew _ and force Republicans to choose over and over between the president and public sentiment on the unpopular war. "This debate will go on," vowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was even more emphatic. "Senate Democrats will not stop our efforts to change the course of this war until either enough Republicans join with us to reject President Bush's failed policy or we get a new president," he said.
But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky cautioned against more of the same. "I want to make it clear ... that if all funding bills are going to be this partisan and contentious, it will be a very long year," he said.
From the White House to the Capitol, the day's events closed out one chapter in an epic struggle pitting Congress against the president over a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,400 U.S. troops.
Democratic presidential politics played a role, as Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, then Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, cast votes against the legislation, which was strongly opposed by anti-war activists.
In the House, Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio choked back tears as he stirred memories of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to take them on? When are we going to defeat them," he asked.
The legislation includes nearly $95 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through Sept. 30. In addition to jettisoning their plan for a troop withdrawal timeline, Democrats abandoned attempts to require the Pentagon to adhere to troop training, readiness and rest requirements unless Bush waived them.
The bill establishes a series of goals for the Iraqi government to meet as it strives to build a democratic country able to defend its own borders. Continued U.S. reconstruction aid would be conditioned on progress toward the so-called benchmarks, although Bush retains the authority to order that the funds be spent regardless of how the Baghdad government performs.
In exchange for providing the war money on Bush's terms, Democrats won White House approval for about $17 billion in spending above what the administration originally sought. Roughly $8 billion of that was for domestic programs from hurricane relief to farm aid to low-income children's health coverage.