House, Senate Maneuver on War-Funding Measures

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The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on a $124 billion emergency funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's been a struggle, though, for House leaders to find enough votes to ensure passage. That's due to resistance from liberal Democrats who oppose more war spending and from conservative Democrats wary of the bill's Aug. 31, 2008 deadline for pulling most U.S. forces out of Iraq.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, got their own war spending bill past one major hurdle Thursday.

The Senate emergency war supplemental would spend $2 billion less than the House version, but it, too, has loads of domestic spending aimed at broadening support.

Senators will provide all the funding the Pentagon has asked for to conduct the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the money comes with strings attached.

Senate Democrats put two conditions on the spending: a phased redeployment of U.S. troops 120 days after the bill's enactment, and a non-binding goal of having most combat troops out of Iraq by April of next year.

Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who lost an arm fighting in World War II, was the Democrats' chief advocate for the bill.

"I would like to suggest that this is a very balanced plan," he told the Senate Appropriations Committee. "It recognizes that we still have military responsibilities in Iraq, and will continue to do so even a year from now, but it will force the Iraqis to fight their own civil war if they insist on doing so."

Just last week, the Senate rejected by a vote of 50-48 the Democrats' troop withdrawal timeline.

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was one of just three Democrats who voted against it. But Nelson now supports his party's Iraq plan, because benchmarks for progress have since been added.

"It seems to me that it is altogether different, the complexion is entirely different with the benchmarks included, as well as reports, periodic reports from Gen. Petraeus or whoever else might be the commander on the ground," he said.

But it was not enough to win over Republicans. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama moved to strike the troop pullout language.

"It will not help, and it will actually hinder our service members and commanders in Iraq to succeed in the mission we've sent them to accomplish," he said. "This language, let's be specific, withdraws our troops in 120 days. Four months, I believe, does not give Gen. Petraeus, our soldiers, the chance to see if a surge in troop numbers could turn this war."

Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, a Republican from Missouri, accused Democrats of imposing an arbitrary exit strategy:

"I do not believe that we in Washington can judge the conditions on the battlefield," he said. "I do not think it is fair to our troops who are in the field to establish a political deadline which is not related the actual accomplishment or non-accomplishment of the objectives in Iraq."

Inouye countered those charges, playing down the significance of the target date.

"It is not a mandate, but a goal of redeploying the remaining forces one year from now," he said.

Shelby's attempt to remove the troop pullout language stalled.

Senior Republicans had already agreed to defer votes on controversial amendments for the Senate floor because Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat and panel member, is still away, recovering from brain surgery. Shelby reluctantly withdrew his measure.

"But this is a debate that's not going to go away, whether it's here or on the floor, and it just goes right to the heart of what we're doing," he said.

The panel passed the bill by voice vote, and it's now headed for debate on the Senate floor next week. Nelson says he'll try convincing some moderate Republicans there to endorse it as well.

But Nelson said the troop pullout timeline may well have to go if the bill's to pass.



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