House OKs war funds until July; Bush vows to veto
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.
Iraqi children watched U.S. soldiers patrol a Shi’ite neighborhood in Baghdad.