Measures To End The War Push Ahead In House, Hit A Wall In Senate

Thursday, March 15th 2007, 7:14 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democrats aggressively challenged President Bush's Iraq policy at both ends of the Capitol on Thursday, gaining House committee approval for a troop withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008, but facing likely Senate defeat on a less sweeping plan to end U.S. participation in the war.

Anti-war Democrats prevailed on a near-party line vote of 36-28 in the House Appropriations Committee, brushing aside a week-old veto threat and overcoming unyielding opposition from Republicans.

``I want this war to end. I don't want to go to any more funerals,'' said New York Rep. Rep. Jose Serrano, one of several liberal Democrats who have pledged their support for the legislation despite preferring a faster end to the war.

``Nobody wants our troops out of Iraq more than I do, countered Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida, who sought unsuccessfully to scuttle the timeline for a troop withdrawal. ``But we can't afford to turn over Iraq to al-Qaida.''

In the Senate, after weeks of skirmishing, Republicans claimed more than enough votes to defeat legislation to require a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days _ but with no fixed deadline for completion. It sets a goal of March 31, 2008.

By coincidence, the developments coincided with the traditional St. Patrick's Day luncheon in the Capitol, an annual social event hosted by the speaker of the House and attended by the president. For an hour or so, while lawmakers were debating the war, Bush and the leader of the political opposition, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were seated near one another in an ornate hall not far from the Capitol Rotunda.

If they discussed the war that has so far claimed the lives of more than 3,200 U.S. troops, there was no evidence of it.

The day's developments in Congress underscored the extraordinary, unpredictable wartime clash between commander in chief and lawmakers.

In the House, only one committee Democrat, liberal Rep. Barbara Lee of California, voted against her party's plan, saying it did not go far enough. ``I believe the American people sent a mandate to us to bring home our men and women before the end of the year,'' she said.

Overall, the committee vote strongly suggested that Democrats will be able to push their troop withdrawal timetable through the full House next week. Even so, there is little prospect the Senate will agree to anything remotely similar. And even if it does, Bush is ready with a veto pen that would force Pelosi and other war critics back to the drafting table.

In the Senate, Republicans countered with an alternative measure that said ``no funds should be cut off or reduced for American troops in the field'' that would undermine their safety.

GOP leaders hoped the proposal, advanced by Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, would prove difficult for Democrats to oppose at a time their own legislation was headed for likely defeat.

Democrats countered with another proposal, this one saying that Congress would provide ``necessary funds for training equipment and other support for troops in the field.''

It took weeks for the Senate to agree to hold a formal debate on Democratic calls for a change in war policy, and by the time it occurred, there was little suspense about the outcome.

``This is a dangerous piece of legislation. It is constitutionally dubious and it would authorize a scattered band of United States senators to tie the hand'' of the commander in chief, said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the GOP leader.

He said it would be ``absolutely fatal'' to the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq.

But Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, saying the nation was on the cusp of a fifth anniversary of war, declared, ``We must have a new direction in Iraq.''

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats were proposing ``just what the American people asked us to do, and it's also the right thing to do.''

The House timetable was part of a spending bill that totals $124 billion, $95.5 billion of which is targeted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The balance of the funds would be distributed among domestic programs that Democrats wanted to highlight _ health care for veterans and low-income children, aid to agriculture and more.

``Whether you be a spinach farmer or a salmon fisherman ... there's something in there for you,'' said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the committee, defended the billions of dollars for agricultural assistance, contending that many farmers are in difficult financial circumstances because of conditions beyond their control.