Iraq Spending Vote a Challenge for Democrats

House Democratic leaders have written a war-spending bill that includes a deadline for withdrawal. The problem is, with defections on the left and right in the Democratic party, they may not have the votes to pass the bill.

The $124 billion measure is $21 billion more than President Bush asked for. That's because it's loaded with goodies to ensure it passes — everything from money for children's health insurance to relief for spinach farmers.

Despite the money, it's been a tough sell. That's mainly because the bill stipulates that most U.S. combat forces be out of Iraq by September 2008. When a reporter asked Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) if he had 218 votes, enough for passage, he said, "Well, we're getting there."

Congressional expert Ron Peters of the University of Oklahoma says Democrats are divided by the bill.

"It's a difficult situation, because obviously, the Democrats are in danger of losing votes either on the left or on the right," Peters said. "And ... I assume they cannot expect to get very many Republican votes."

But Democrats are under considerable pressure from anti-war constituents to pass the bill. About 25 war protesters dressed in hot pink barged into a House dining hall Wednesday, yelling, "Don't buy Bush's war!"

Medea Benjamin, a protest leader, said they're urging Democrats who oppose the war to reject the spending bill as well.

"We think that if the Democrats spend another $100 billion on this war, it's basically their war. They can't keep blaming Bush," Benjamin said. "So we're saying if you buy it, you own it; don't buy it!"

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) agrees.

"I oppose war, I oppose spending another dime, another penny on war," he said.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) opposes the bill from the right.

"I mean the bill does a heckuva lot of good," he said. "The one part that gives me heartburn, as I said, would be the timeline."

Like Taylor, House Republicans say they won't vote for any bill that puts strings on funding for troops.

"The [Democrats'] supplemental bill is simply defeat on the installment plan," Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) said during the debate Wednesday. "How can Congress convey our support for the troops in Iraq, and at the same time pass a bill which pulls the rug from the very people we claim to support?"

"Plain and simple, this supplemental is written by the majority is a blueprint for defeat," he said.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) says he's simply told his fellow Republicans to vote their conscience.

"Members are either for it, or they're against it," he said. "Although I think the majority of the Congress today is opposed to it."

The vote won't change the outcome of the war, Peters said.

"I mean everyone understands that this legislation is not going to finally be enacted into law," he said. "It is unlikely to get through the Senate in the form in which it's being considered in the House. And if it does, Bush is likely to veto it."

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, vote in committee Thursday on their own war spending bill, with an April 2008 deadline for withdrawing most combat troops from Iraq.

Unless a committee Republican crosses over, Democrats are one vote short of what they need for the bill to go to the Senate floor.

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