Senate Passes War-Spending Bill With Iraq Deadline

March 29, 2007 at 5:28 pm Leave a comment

By DAVID STOUT NY TIMES Published: March 29, 2007 WASHINGTON, March 29 — The Senate narrowly approved a war-spending bill today that calls for most American combat troops to be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008, and in so doing defied a veto threat by President Bush. The 51-to-47 vote endorsed a $122 billion spending package, most of which would go to the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, although some domestic spending is included. Even as the roll-call was under way, President Bush was meeting with House Republican leaders. Immediately after the meeting, he renewed his pledge to veto any measure “that restricts our commanders on the ground in Iraq,” a fault he sees not only in the Senate bill but in the significantly different House version. “We stand united,” Mr. Bush said outside the White House with Representatives John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, and Roy Blunt of Missouri, the minority whip. “We expect there to be no strings on our commanders.” Asserting again that both the House and Senate bills have unnecessary spending tucked into their language, Mr. Bush added, “We expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people’s money.” The Senate and House bills must now be reconciled through negotiations between the chambers. A key difference is that the Senate bill sets a nonbinding goal for withdrawing troops by March 31, 2008, while the House version demands that they be out by September 2008. Today’s Senate vote was slightly anticlimactic, in that it was foreshadowed by a similarly narrow vote on Tuesday that rejected a move to strip the withdrawal-date language from the bill. But it was nonetheless politically significant as a reflection of Congressional Democrats’ solidarity against the president’s war policy, even though Democrats do not have enough votes to override Mr. Bush’s veto. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, immediately issued a statement disputing the president’s assertion that the Senate bill, like its House counterpart, is larded with unnecessary spending. “If the president uses his veto pen, he will be the one denying funding for the troops,” Mr. Reid said, adding that the bill includes money needed for homeland security, disaster relief and children’s health care in addition to military needs. Two Republican senators, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, joined Democrats in voting for the bill today. Their “yes” votes had been expected, since both have been highly critical of the conduct of the war. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who sides with the Democrats on most issues but supports the president on the war, voted against the bill. (Senator Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming was absent because of a family illness; Senator Tim Johnson, Democrat of South Dakota, is hospitalized.) With both houses of Congress now firmly on record in favor of withdrawing from Iraq, President Bush has vowed not to negotiate a timetable with Democrats. “Now, some of them believe that by delaying funding for our troops, they can force me to accept restrictions on our commanders that I believe would make withdrawal and defeat more likely,” Mr. Bush told an audience of cattlemen and ranchers on Wednesday. “That’s not going to happen.” Mr. Bush and Congressional Democrats are already deadlocked over the Democrats’ demands for testimony from top White House officials in an inquiry into the firing of federal prosecutors. Now, Mr. Bush is in the difficult position of fighting the new Democratic majority on two fronts, both the war spending and the prosecutors. On Wednesday, he seemed in no mood to back down from the war spending fight. As he quoted a newspaper editorial — from The Los Angeles Times, though he did not mention it by name — accusing Democrats of “the worst kind of Congressional meddling in military strategy,” Mr. Bush appeared almost eager for a battle. And Democrats seemed eager to give it to him. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, said Mr. Bush should “calm down with the threats,” and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said his impression was that Mr. Bush “doesn’t want anything other than a confrontation.” The president has been saying for weeks that he will veto any war spending bill that contains a withdrawal date. He reiterated that threat on Wednesday, taking particular aim at Democrats for loading the military spending bills with unrelated special interest projects above the $100 billion he has asked for the war, including $3.5 million for visitors to “tour the Capitol and see for themselves how Congress works,” and $6.4 million for the House of Representatives’ “salaries and expense accounts.” “I don’t know what that is,” Mr. Bush said wryly, “but it’s not related to the war and protecting the United States of America.”

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