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Congress OKs war funding

The $120-billion bill has no timelines to withdraw U.S. troops.

May 25, 2007|Noam N. Levey and Richard Simon | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Bringing to a close an extended showdown between Congress and President Bush over the Iraq war, overwhelmingly united Republicans and deeply divided Democrats passed a $120-billion emergency war spending bill Thursday that would not require U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn.

The measure, which heads to the White House for Bush's signature, gives the president the funding he has sought for more than three months without any requirement that he bring troops home and only a handful of restrictions on what he can do in Iraq.

By codifying political steps the Iraqi government should take to reduce sectarian strife, the bill gives Republicans linked to the unpopular war the opportunity to back legislation that puts new requirements on the Baghdad government.

And it forced vanquished antiwar Democrats -- who since January had been waging a fierce campaign to use the funding bill to force a troop withdrawal -- to pin their hopes on future legislation.

"Let's be clear: Those of us who oppose this war will be back again and again and again until this war is ended," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who voted against the bill.

In the end, 86 Democrats in the House and 37 in the Senate voted for the full funding package, which also raises the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade -- to $7.25 an hour, from $5.15 -- and includes billions of dollars more for veterans' healthcare, Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, children's healthcare and drought relief.

With minority Republicans supplying more votes than majority Democrats, the war funding measure passed 280 to 142 in the House and 80 to 14 in the Senate.

Among those voting against the package was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

Also opposing the legislation were Democratic presidential contenders Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who called it "another blank check," and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, both of whom waited until Thursday evening to come out against it.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, alone among Democratic presidential hopefuls, signaled ahead of time that he would vote for the funding measure.

"The bill we are voting on denies the American people a plan for a responsible way out of Iraq," Biden said.

"But the practical reality is that, for now, those of us who want to change course in Iraq don't have the votes to override the president's veto. And I believe that as long as we have troops on the front lines, we must give them the equipment and protection they need."

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a staunch defender of the president's Iraq strategy, voted for the measure.

California's senators split, with Democrat Barbara Boxer opposing it and Democrat Dianne Feinstein supporting it.

In the House, California Democratic Reps. Joe Baca of Rialto, Dennis Cardoza of Atwater, Jim Costa of Fresno and Susan A. Davis of San Diego voted for the bill; all other California Democrats opposed it, except for Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), who did not vote. All California Republican representatives supported the bill except Rep. John Campbell of Irvine, who did not vote.

At the White House, the president spoke enthusiastically about the legislation, saying at a Rose Garden news conference that it "makes clear that our Iraqi partners must demonstrate progress on security and reconciliation."

Bush, who vetoed an earlier funding measure that would have required a withdrawal of U.S. troops, essentially forced Democrats to abandon their plan to link funding to a withdrawal timeline. He and his congressional allies said such a timeline would guarantee defeat in Iraq.

The measure that passed Thursday -- which includes nearly $100 billion to fund military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year -- contains no mention of a U.S. withdrawal.

Rather, it focuses on establishing 18 benchmarks for the Iraqi government, such as disarming militias, protecting minority political parties and passing legislation to share the country's oil.

Under the terms of the measure -- patterned after a proposal by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- the Iraqi government would have to demonstrate progress on the goals by mid-July. Absent such progress, economic aid to Iraq could be withheld, though Bush would be able to waive the restriction.

Warner, flanked by centrist lawmakers from both parties, praised the formula as a guarantee that the administration's Iraq policy would be reviewed in July, rather than in September, the month that administration officials had mentioned for conducting a review of the current increase in troops.

"To me that was too long," Warner said. "And to my colleagues who joined me, that was too long."

In the House and the Senate, Republican lawmakers praised the Warner plan as holding the Iraqi government accountable while delivering needed funding to U.S. troops.

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