HOUSE TIES IRAQ WITHDRAWAL TO WAR FUNDING
by Eli Clifton
Protesters Pressure Pelosi to Cut War Funding
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
new Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a $124 billion war spending bill with an explicit deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, in one of the most vocal challenges yet to the Bush administration's policy in the country.
The bill, which passed 218-212 -- mostly split along party lines -- requires that combat operations in Iraq conclude by Aug. 31, 2008.
Withdrawal could occur earlier if the Iraqi government does not follow through on certain requirements for the ongoing U.S. occupation.
The House of Representatives' historic vote brings the first real progress in changing the Bush administration's Iraq policy, which many Democratic representatives believe is deeply flawed in its origins as well as implementation.
"This is a major step forward for the effort to establish a new U.S. policy," said Jim Cason, an analyst at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker lobby group, in an interview with IPS.
"The president's policy has failed and congress is saying they won't provide further funding without a change in policy," he said.
Certain House democrats have been the main stumbling block to passing the bill, with more liberal Democrats complaining that the legislation would not initiate a withdrawal soon enough, leading to a split in the Democratic base which became increasingly apparent yesterday.
Liberal democrats expressed dismay over being forced to vote for increasing Iraq war spending in order to dictate a timeline for withdrawal.
The bill was scheduled for a vote Thursday but members of the party's anti-war caucus forced a postponement, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held backroom meetings with liberal democrats, trying to ensure at least an additional four votes.
Pelosi adopted tougher approaches to dissenting Democrats as the scheduled vote grew closer, reportedly threatening Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that if she voted against the bill Pelosi would remove her from her House Appropriations Committee seat.
"As someone who opposed this war from the beginning, I have voted against every single penny for this war and found myself today in the difficult position of having to choose between voting against funding for the war or for establishing timelines to end it," said Lee.
Pelosi's threats were particularly aimed at representatives from districts who believed their seats were secure and they could vote how they pleased. Proponents of the bill made it clear that there would be consequences for any Democrats who opposed the legislation.
"Rather than sending more troops into the chaos that is the Iraq civil war, we must be focused on bringing the war to an end," said Pelosi on the floor of the House.
Republicans remained almost completely unified in opposition to the bill, claiming that the withdrawal deadline and conditions on continued funding created a situation tantamount to declaring "defeat" in Iraq.
"I happen to believe the stakes in Iraq are too high, and the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families too great, to be content with anything but success," said Republican Whip Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri.
President Bush responded to the bill's passing this afternoon stating, "(T)oday, a narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law, and brings us no closer to getting our troops the resources they need to do their job."
Language in the bill requiring benchmarks for progress in Iraq reflects the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report which Bush reportedly disregarded as a "flaming turd."
"This is an important marker that a majority in the House of Representatives has endorsed Baker-Hamilton (the ISG Report)," said Cason.
The bill marks the first time Congress has used its budgetary power to attempt to force a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The same technique was used successfully to force the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Indochina in 1975.
Passing a similar bill in the Senate will prove significantly more difficult because the Democratic leadership will need 60 votes to prevail, a difficult requirement since it will necessitate a dozen Republicans to cross party lines and vote with the Democratic majority.
The Senate appropriations committee has approved their version of the bill -- which would suggest a Mar. 31, 2008 withdrawal goal -- but Republicans have vowed to remove the withdrawal provisions when the bill reaches the floor, possibly as soon as Mar. 26.
The White House has promized to veto the bill if it manages to pass in the Senate.
"The president has made it clear he will do everything he can to prevent congress, and the majority of people in this country, from forcing him to abandon his failed policies in Iraq," said Cason.
Excluding the funds in the bill passed today, Congress has provided 350 billion dollars for the war in Iraq, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
More than 3,200 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began four years ago in March 2003.
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Albion Monitor March
24, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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