Democrats Prepare for Another Funding Battle

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi voted against the war spending bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi voted against the war spending bill. (By Dennis Cook -- Associated Press)
By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 27, 2007

After a contentious, three-month battle with the White House over Iraq, congressional Democrats limped out of Washington Friday with their sights trained on July for the next round -- but antiwar activists are spoiling for a fight far sooner than that.

The Democratic rank-and-file left for the week-long Memorial Day break with a slate of talking points on Congress's accomplishments whose top bullet point boasts of "working responsibly to end the war." In the past 100 days, virtually every Democrat has voted to demand troop withdrawals, and a majority of them effectively voted Thursday night to cut off funds for the war.

But to antiwar groups, the only tally that mattered was Congress's easy approval of a $120 billion war spending bill that was stripped of timelines for troop withdrawals. A majority of House Democrats may have voted against it, but the Democratic leadership in both chambers facilitated its passage.

"Voters elected this Congress to lead the country out of the mess in Iraq," said Eli Pariser, executive director of the liberal activist group Political Action. "We expect great political fallout for all of the representatives -- Republican and Democrat -- who stood in the way."

Democratic leaders argue that for the first time Congress had required the Bush administration to track military and political progress in Iraq in 18 prescribed areas and to report back to Congress as soon as July. Some nonmilitary aid could be jeopardized if the Iraqi government fails to make progress.

The funding bill's passage "was the start of a whole new direction in Iraq," declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). "I think that the president's policy is going to begin to unravel now."

But that message was undermined by her vote against a measure she herself had dismissed as "a fig leaf" and "a token." Pelosi praised the 140 Democrats who voted against the bill.

She said the "no" votes communicated "No more funding."

But the praise struck a dissonant note, since she was flanked by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), all of whom had voted for the funds.

"There are 232 Democrats in the House of Representatives," Hoyer said. "There are 232 Democrats that believed that our policies in Iraq are failing."

Activists declared they would remain focused on Republicans but would hold Democrats accountable. Television advertisements, financed by an antiwar coalition, will target Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), both up for reelection next year. And MoveOn organizers said Democrats also are likely to see skirmishes in their districts. MoveOn asked its members Friday to send Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) protest letters in the form of tea bags, reminders that he had called the Iraq bill "weak tea" before he voted for it.

"This is not partisan anymore. This is not about staying away from Democrats to make them look good or attacking all Republicans to make them look bad," said Susan Shaer, co-chairman of the Win Without War coalition. "We don't care who you are or whether we usually like you. This vote was wrong."

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