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Democrat hopefuls face critical vote on Iraq

  Politics  -   POSTED: 2007/05/24 17:18

The U.S. House advanced a final $120 billion Iraq war spending bill today that would keep military operations afloat through September.

The bill was a major concession by Democrats who wanted to include a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals, but relented because they didn't have enough votes to override another presidential veto. The House and Senate both planned to approve the measure by the end of the day.

For his part, Bush agreed to accept some $17 billion in added spending so long as there were not restrictions on the military campaign.

"I hate this agreement," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Obey said the deal was the best that Democrats could manage because "the White House is in a cloud somewhere in terms of understanding the realities in Iraq."

The bill includes the nearly $100 billion that President Bush requested for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as billions in domestic spending, including $6.4 billion in hurricane relief and $3 billion in agricultural assistance.

Republicans were unhappy about the added domestic spending, but said they were relieved the final measure did not attempt to set a timetable on the war.

"We cannot and will not abandon the Iraqis to be butchered by these terrorists in their midst," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif. "And we cannot and will not abandon our mission just as real progress is starting to be made."

The hefty spending bill has become a lightning rod for political attacks on Bush and his handling of the deeply unpopular war, which has killed more than 3,400 U.S. troops and cost more than $300 billion. But it also has exposed a sharp divide among Democrats on how far Congress should go to end the war.

Democratic presidential contenders on Capitol Hill are vying for the anti-war vote, but at the same time do not want to appear as though they are turning their backs on the military.

"I believe as long as we have troops in the front line, we're going to have to protect them," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. "We're going to have to fund them."

Biden was alone among the potential Democratic candidates in immediately pledging his support for the bill.

Two front-runners, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, declined to say how they intended to vote on the measure.

Both have voted against binding timetables for troop withdrawals in the past, before public sentiment against the war hardened or they became presidential contenders. Last week, the two voted to advance legislation that would have cut off money for U.S. combat operations by March 31, 2008, cutoff.

Challengers Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio said they would oppose the measure because in their view it issued a blank check to President Bush on the Iraq war.

"Half-measures and equivocations are not going to change our course in Iraq," Dodd said in a statement. "If we are serious about ending the war, Congress must stand up to this president's failed policy now — with clarity and conviction."

While the measure does not include a timetable on the war, it does threaten to withhold U.S. aid dollars for Iraq if Baghdad fails to make progress on political and security reforms. The president, however, could waive that restriction.

Biden said that while he would vote for the measure, he disagreed with the approach because it could hamper the Iraqi government's ability to take on more responsibility.

Democratic leaders planned multiple votes in the House today to ensure the measure would ultimately pass because of disagreements among members on elements of the bill. One vote was to be on war funding, while another would be to approve the extra money for domestic and military-related projects.

While liberal Democrats were expected to vote against the war funds measure, GOP members were expected to make up for the losses. On the added spending, Democrats likely were to be unified in their support for the measure, overcoming GOP objections.


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