WASHINGTON: Congressional Democrats, ignoring a promised veto by President George W. Bush, said on 23 April they will unveil a war funding bill setting March 31 as the goal for pulling most US troops out of Iraq.
The legislation, which still has to be approved by a special Senate and House of Representatives panel and the full Congress, would require troop withdrawals to begin no later than October 1, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.
But unlike a tougher House version of the money bill, which required all US combat troops to leave Iraq by September 1, 2008, this new version merely establishes next March as a target date for withdrawing, the approach favored by the Senate.
Democratic leaders hope to move the $100 billion war-funding bill through Congress this week, as the debate continued to rage between Bush and Democrats over the handling of the war, now in its fifth year.
“I believe strongly that politicians in Washington shouldn’t be telling generals how to do their job,” Bush said. “And I believe artificial timetables of withdrawal would be a mistake,” he said, reinforcing his veto warning.
Reid, who last week said the war in Iraq was “lost,” on 23 April accused Bush of being in out of touch.
Referring to Bush’s remarks last week asserting there has been progress in Iraq, Reid said: “The White House transcript says the president made those remarks in the state of Michigan. I believe he made them in the state of denial.”
A wave of car bombings killed nearly 200 people in Baghdad on Wednesday marking the worst violence since Bush in January authorized an escalation of U.S. troops to secure the Iraqi capital against sectarian violence.
“It has now been three months and despite the president’s happy talk, no progress has been made,” Reid said.
The new version of the legislation calls on military leaders to ensure troops are adequately trained, equipped and rested before going to combat. Critics say that after four years of war, the Pentagon is rushing troops to battle unprepared and exhausted.
Assuming the legislation passes Congress and Bush vetoes it, Democratic leaders would then try to quickly write a new bill to continue funding the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is still unclear whether any conditions would be attached.
In the face of Democrats’ deepening opposition to the war, and U.S. troop deaths topping 3,300, Bush is hoping to maintain enough political support for the war to give his troop surge more time to work.
Bush called Gen. David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, to Washington this week to try to build congressional support for continuing the war.
Besides the war funds, Congress also is including about $20 billion in new money for veterans’ health care, hurricane rebuilding, children health insurance and other programs.
To blunt Bush’s complaints that much of this money was unnecessary, Democrats have abandoned some of the farm aid that Republicans mocked most, such as help to the spinach, peanut and sugar industries.
Reid continued what has become a running verbal duel with the Bush administration, lashing out in particular at Vice President Dick Cheney, who has repeatedly denounced congressional Democrats for their assault on Iraq policy.
Bush was using Cheney as “chief attack dog,” Reid said, adding that “the vice president demeans himself and diminishes his office by offering wildly irresponsible and inaccurate attacks on us and our strategy.”