House OKs war funds un­til July; Bush vows to veto

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller and Joseph Curl

The House on May 10 ig­nored a veto threat and passed a bill to ra­tion war funds, hours af­ter Pres­i­dent Bush for the first time of­fered to ne­go­ti­ate Iraq bench­marks with the Demo­crat-led Congress.

The bill, which would fund the war intwo-month in­stall­ments and sets up apos­si­bletroop­with­drawal­inAu­gust, passed in a 221-205 vote, with Democrats­back­ingth­e­billby219-10and Repub­li­cans op­posed by 195-2.

A sep­a­rate House bill for a prompt troop pull­out died on a 255-171 vote, sig­nif­i­cantly more sup­port than ex­pected, with 169 Democrats and two Repub­li­cans, vot­ing for the im­me­di­ate pull­out and send­ing a loud mes­sage to Mr. Bush.

The pres­i­dent re­jected the fund-ra­tioning scheme as “hap­haz­ard, piece­meal fund­ing” and vowed to veto it, as he did two weeks ago to a $124 bil­lion bill with a timetable to with­drawal troops as soon as July.

But in an about-face from his de­mand for war funds free of con­di­tions or re­stric­tions, Mr. Bush agreed to con­sider a bill that mea­sures Iraqi progress, such as re­duc­ing sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence, es­tab­lish­ing a mili­tia-dis­ar­ma­ment pro­gram and en­act­ing laws to share oil rev­enue.

“One mes­sage I have heard from peo­ple from both par­ties is that the idea of bench­marks makes sense — and I agree,” Mr. Bush said at the Pen­tagon af­ter meet­ing with top mil­i­tary strate­gists.

He said he charged White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, who has spear­headed war-fund­ing ne­go­ti­a­tion­swith­Congress,to“find­com­mon ground on bench­marks.”

But the con­ces­sion did lit­tle to close the gulf sep­a­rat­ing the White House and Congress be­cause Democrats want bench­marks that in­clude manda­tory con­se­quences if they are not met, some­thing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­pected to re­sist.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Rei­d­said­hewel­comedthep­res­i­dent’s change of heart, but he wants the end of com­bat op­er­a­tions.

“Democrats re­main united in our ef­forts to change course in Iraq and en­act a strat­egy that makes Amer­ica more se­cure,” the Ne­vada Demo­crat said. “A bi­par­ti­san ma­jor­ity of Congress has al­ready con­cluded that we need more than sim­ple bench­marks with­out any con­se­quences to ac­com­plish this goal.”

House Ma­jor­ity Leader John A. Boehner said he and other Repub­li­cans have long sup­ported set­ting bench­marks but op­pose us­ing them to choke off war funds or force a pre­cip­i­tous troop with­drawal.

He com­pared pol­icy bench­marks for Iraq to the sales goals he set when he owned a pack­ag­ing busi­ness in his home state of Ohio.

“If I didn’t meet the bench­mark, I didn’t close down my busi­ness. I didn’t lock the door,” he said. “I’d try harder. I’d change strat­egy. [. . .] I’d find some way to make ad­just­ments to meet those goals.”

The House-passed bill would re­lease $30 bil­lion for com­bat opera- tions un­til July 31. Mr. Bush would have to re­port on progress made in Iraq by July 13 be­fore Congress votes whether to dole out $50 bil­lion more to keep the troops fight­ing un­til Sept. 30, the end of the fis­cal year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, called the bill a “path to sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East” and a path home for U.S. troops.

“I don’t know why the pres­i­dent doesn’t un­der­stand this war can­not pro­ceed in­def­i­nitely,” she said dur­ing floor de­bate. “We owe it to the Amer­i­can peo­ple to find com­mon ground so we can end this war.”

But the 221-205 vote fell far short of the two-thirds ma­jor­ity Democrats would need to over­ride a veto. Most of the 10 Democrats who voted against itare­mem­ber­soft­heOut­ofIraqCau­cus, which wants an im­me­di­ate with­drawal and op­poses any war fund­ing.

The mea­sure also will have to merge with a Se­nate bill ex­pected to con­tain softer re­stric­tions. A Se­nate vote could come as early as this week as Congress rushes to send the pres­i­dent a fi­nal bill be­fore its week­long Me­mo­rial Day re­cess at the end of this month.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

Sharon Behn / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Iraqi chil­dren watched U.S. sol­diers pa­trol a Shi’ite neigh­bor­hood in Bagh­dad.

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