Analysis: an Iraq Bill No One Loved

The Associated Press
Friday, May 25, 2007; 9:00 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Iraq war funding bill cleared by Congress represents a triumph of divided government, beloved by none, crafted to avoid a protracted veto struggle that neither President Bush nor Democrats wanted.

"We feel like we've moved an iceberg an inch," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, acknowledging the enormity of the task confronting Democrats who took office in January determined to end the war.

Not that top Republicans were happy with legislation that included about $8 billion in domestic spending, added at Democratic insistence. "We've got a whole host of other issues that don't deserve to be put on the backs of our men and women in the military," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio shortly before the vote. "It's a sneaky way to do business."

Perhaps, but Bush was a full partner, his leverage diminished by approval ratings in the 30s and the war's unpopularity. He signed the measure at the Camp David presidential retreat Friday night.

Republicans had already shown they would sustain a veto on legislation that impinges on Bush's authority as commander in chief, having done so on a bill that included a troop withdrawal timetable. But they, like Democrats, support government aid to farmers and hurricane victims.

And they were no less clear that their commitment to the current war policy isn't open-ended. "I think that the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president to lead it," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP leader.

"You know, I think it's a statement of the obvious that the Iraq war is not popular," he added at a news conference on Friday. So much so that 81 percent of self-described political independents in a recent New York Times-CBS poll said things are going badly in Iraq.

If public sentiment on the war worries Republicans, it stirs a different emotion among Democrats.

"Anger that we do not have the power to make the will of the people of America the law of our land," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Durbin, Majority Leader Harry Reid and many other anti-war Senate Democrats voted for the bill. "I cannot vote ... to stop funding for our troops who are in harm's way," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Across the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders had executed a far more complicated maneuver.

They arranged for two separate votes, one on the domestic spending, the other on war money _ but no third roll call on the combined package. That freed liberals to oppose war funds, as the speaker and 139 Democrats did. As expected, Republicans provided the bulk of the votes needed for the military money, inoculating Pelosi and her party from charges they had blocked resources the troops needed.

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