Congress passed a $120 billion Iraq War funding bill backed by President Bush Thursday night as Democrats splintered over what some are calling “capitulation.”
Leading Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (Wis.), voted against the war funding because it contains no timelines for withdrawal or meaningful troop readiness standards.
Pelosi called the war-funding measure “a small step forward” although it included only benchmarks for the Iraqis that can be easily waived. “This is like a fig leaf. This is a token,” she said, vowing to continue working for a change of the mission in Iraq away from combat roles and policing a civil war.
“I hate this agreement,” Obey said. But Obey nonetheless defended the negotiations that produced the legislation as a recognition that Democrats do not have the votes to override a veto and that the Senate could not get 60 votes to pass a more restrictive funding package.
“We simply did not have the votes to force the president to change policy,” Obey said. The amendment including the war funding passed 280-142 with a majority of Democrats and two Republicans opposing the war funding. A second amendment providing billions of dollars in domestic spending, veterans’ spending and a minimum-wage hike passed on an overwhelming 348-73 vote. The two were combined without a final vote and sent to the Senate.
The Senate voted 80-14 in favor of the bill, with Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) voting “no.”
Republicans said it was about time Democrats brought a bill to the floor that funded the troops without “timetables for surrender.”
“Thank goodness we are finally here,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who teared up during his remarks as he argued that withdrawing troops from Iraq would be regretted for a long time and would give a victory to al-Qaida.
Boehner said Democrats had undermined the troops, lowered their morale and sent the wrong message to allies and enemies by pushing for withdrawal.
But while Republicans cheered the lack of restrictions on the president’s ability to conduct the war as he chooses, anti-war Democrats fumed.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) ripped the deal on the floor, although he noted the rule would require votes in September on withdrawal legislation as well as legislation deauthorizing the war before the fiscal 2008 supplemental spending bill can be passed.
“I will vote against this blank check of a supplemental,” McGovern said. “The sad reality is that the Senate is too timid and the president too irrational. … Those of us who oppose this war will be back again and again and again and again until this war is ended.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, called on Congress to be bolder in confronting the president.
“This capitulation proves once and for all that we cannot negotiate with this president,” she said. “He won’t listen to his military generals on the ground, he won’t listen to outside experts like the Iraq Study Group, he won’t listen to the Congress, and worst of all he won’t listen to the American public. … If we continue to take piecemeal steps such as today’s vote, then we must accept our complicity in his continued occupation of Iraq.”
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, voted for the bill, as did Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Murtha acknowledged that Democrats relented on key provisions, but said Congress had to act now or risk starving troops of the funds.
“They run out of money, we can’t have that,” Murtha said, adding that he was encouraged by the inclusion of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, and he said he expected more Republicans to begin joining Democrats in opposition to the White House as September approaches.
“That’s what’s going to happen, I can see it already,” he said. “If you look at it long-term you see a direction, a movement that is moving our way. There’s no question about that. The public has made up their mind, they are impatient to get it over with but it doesn’t happen like that. As long as we can’t override a veto it doesn’t happen like that. I think by September you’ll see a different scenario.”
Murtha credited Pelosi with helping steer the bill to passage, despite the fact that she voted against it.
“She’s been masterful in the way she’s handled this, she knows what has to be done,” he said.
For his part, Hoyer said the bill “moved the ball forward.”
“I do not believe that it constitutes a blank check,” Hoyer said, arguing that the benchmarks on the Iraqis provide “a level of accountability” that had been absent in the first four years of the war.
Senate moderates, meanwhile, sought to portray the bill as providing important new accountability for the Iraqi government. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who authored the benchmark language, noted that the bill will require the president to report back on the situation in Iraq in July and September. Warner said if the situation in Iraq continues to worsen between now and July, the president should shift closer to the outline proposed by the Iraq Study Group. Warner said waiting until September for a progress report is too long.
“It appears the situation could well be worsening, but hope springs eternal,” Warner said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the bill “sends a very strong message to the Iraqi leaders that the status quo is not acceptable,” warning that the commitment to Iraq was not “open-ended.”
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) called the benchmarks “conditions for staying,” and said if Iraqis fail to make progress, withdrawal and redeployment consequences will eventually follow.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) praised the Warner language, saying he hopes it leads to a consensus on how to eventually draw down troops without leaving Iraq a mess.
The package, which was only unveiled Thursday morning after last-minute negotiations with the White House continued into the night on Wednesday, contains $109 billion for security accounts and $11 billion for domestic spending, including $6.3 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief and $3 billion for agriculture disaster assistance. Smaller amounts would go to children’s health insurance, rural schools, wildland firefighting and other accounts. The minimum wage will rise from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. The plan is $17 billion more than Bush sought, but that is a price he is willing to pay to get a bill devoid of timelines for withdrawal.
Bush praised the compromise at a press conference Thursday, arguing for the need to keep up the fight in Iraq and calling on the Iraqi government to work toward making political progress called for in the legislation. “I recognize there are a handful there or some who just say, get out, it’s just not worth it, let’s just leave. I strongly disagree with that attitude. Most Americans do, as well.” Susan Davis contributed to this report.