Bush signs war bill with no timetables
President Bush on Friday signed the controversial emergency spending bill for the Iraq war as antiwar activists assailed congressional Democrats for dropping their demands that the legislation include timetables for withdrawing U.S. troops.
Bush’s action ended his first major fight with the new Congress over the war, but Democratic leaders vowed to continue their effort to force an end to the 4-year-old war.
“We are going to come back in other pieces of legislation ... and keep coming back,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.
Democrats’ decision to pull back on the timetable issue reflected political realities: With most Republicans continuing to support Bush on the war, Democrats do not have enough votes to impose deadlines over the president’s objections. And, although they oppose the war, many Democrats are leery of doing anything that might be construed as not supporting the troops in the field -- such as holding back funding.
Democratic strategists are planning for the next battle.
The most immediate opportunity may be a defense authorization bill scheduled to come before the Senate at the end of June. Some Democratic strategists are considering attaching withdrawal timelines to it.
But the next major showdown may come in September, when Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, is due to report on the progress of Bush’s U.S. troop buildup.
At that time, members of both parties will be more focused on their reelection campaigns, and the administration will need more money for the war.
“September is the moment of truth for this war,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said.
Although she voted against the almost-$120-billion spending measure, which included money for some nonmilitary items, Pelosi said it represented a “step in the direction of accountability that the Americans have demanded in the war in Iraq.”
Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged the mounting pressure for change. “I think that the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president to lead it,” he said at a Capitol news conference.
Antiwar activists were enraged that 86 Democrats in the House and 37 in the Senate voted for the bill and vowed to hold the lawmakers accountable. Some activists even talked about recruiting primary challengers.
“Voters elected them in November to end the war. That’s the promise they made, and we expect them to deliver on it,” said Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org.
Bush signed the legislation without the fanfare that accompanied his veto of an earlier bill that included timelines.
“Rather than mandate arbitrary timetables for troop withdrawals or micromanage our military commanders, this legislation enables our servicemen and women to follow the judgment of commanders on the ground,” Bush said in a statement after signing the bill.
The legislation, which funds military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq through Sept. 30, sets benchmarks for the Iraqi government in securing the country. If the Iraqis do not demonstrate progress by mid-July, U.S. reconstruction aid could be withheld, though Bush could waive that provision.
The bill also contained one of the Democratic majority’s top legislative priorities: the first increase in the federal minimum wage in a decade -- to $7.25 an hour, from $5.15, to be phased in over two years.
The vote reflected the uncomfortable political bind facing House Democrats: Though they are in the majority, it was the GOP minority that assured the bill’s passage. Of the 226 Democrats voting in the House, 140 opposed it, while 194 of 196 Republicans voting gave their support.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who voted for the spending measure, said in a statement Friday: “Democrats have voted over and over again to change course in Iraq. But ... we simply do not have the 67 votes at this point to overcome the president’s veto.”
“The problem here is that we have troops in harm’s way who must have the necessary equipment and support,” she said.
Pariser, however, said of the Democrats: “They’re in a very strong position to take the fight to the president. The country is with them. We think they have to make the president come to them, not go to where he is.”
Karen Jacob of Women’s Action for New Directions was among about a dozen antiwar activists from Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly’s Indiana district who showed up at an event he held Friday at a grocery store. She said the group “just very politely expressed our dismay at his voting for this legislation.”
“We want to let the representatives know we’re very unhappy, and if they continue on this direction, we will work to replace them,” she said.
Complaints about the war will be only one sore subject that lawmakers are likely to hear about when they go home for their weeklong recess for Memorial Day. The immigration debate has stirred emotions, and many are angry about gas prices.
Still, Democratic leaders were all smiles Friday, citing the minimum wage increase and funding included in the bill for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery and agriculture disaster aid.
California is also expected to receive a good deal of money to shore up its system of its levees and combat drug trafficking on federal lands.
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