Dems back down on withdrawal date in Iraq war bill
WASHINGTON — Flinching in the face of a veto threat, Democratic leaders on Tuesday dropped their insistence that a $120 billion bill to fund the Iraq war include a date to withdraw troops from the country.
President Bush had vetoed one Democratic-drafted measure already and threatened to reject another if the timelines were not stripped. Bush had said that the timelines were setting a date for surrender and that withdrawal could only come when Iraq is secure.
Congressional leaders said they hoped the compromise would be cleared for Bush's signature by Friday.
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House GOP leader, said: "Democrats have finally conceded defeat in their effort to include mandatory surrender dates in a funding bill for the troops, so forward progress has been made for the first time in this four-month process."
Democrats vowed to challenge Bush's policies in other ways.
"We're going to continue our battle, and that's what it is, to represent the American people like they want us to represent them, to change the course of the war in Iraq," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Lawmakers in both parties claimed victory in legislation that contained no binding limitation on Bush's powers as commander in chief.
"I view this as the beginning of the end of the president's policy on Iraq in this war," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. "It ends the blank check of more troops, more money, more time and more of the same."
Emanuel pointed to a provision setting standards for the Iraqi government to meet in developing a more democratic society. U.S. reconstruction aid would be conditioned on progress toward meeting the goals, but Bush would have authority to order the money to be spent regardless of how Baghdad performed.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she is unlikely to vote for the war money because it lacks "a goal or a timetable" for a troop withdrawal.
Republicans agreed to concessions in terms of as much as $8 billion for Democratic domestic priorities such as additional disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina victims and farmers hurt by drought.
Final details of the measure remained in flux, although Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said at an early-evening news conference, "We're very close to having things tied down."
The bill would also include the first increase in the federal minimum wage in more than a decade. Both the House and Senate have passed measures raising the current level of $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour in three separate 70-cent increases over 26 months. Those measures included modest tax breaks, mainly aimed at helping businesses that hire low-skilled or handicapped workers.
Obey outlined an unusual procedure in which lawmakers in the House could cast two votes, one on the war-related provisions and a second on all other items. That would allow liberal Democrats to oppose the war funds, confident that Republicans would supply the support needed for it to prevail. The opposite would be true for the domestic spending, which draws more support from Democrats than Republicans.
The bill would then go to the Senate, where senators would have to vote yes or no on the entire package.
The Iraq war has dominated the early months of the Congress that took office in January, as majority Democrats promised to pressure Bush to change course.
The funding dispute led to a veto of legislation that contained a timeline for a troop withdrawal. The House failed to override the veto, and that led to negotiations.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the negotiated measure would provide "the funding and flexibility the forces need. That's what we've wanted all along."
UPDATE: This is actually a much better article: http://www.washingtontimes.com/functions/print.php?StoryID=20070523-123736-6145r