House Approves August 2008 Deadline on Iraq

U.S. Army soldiers from Gator Company 2-12 Infantry Battalion take a rest in the yard of an Iraqi i i

U.S. Army soldiers from Gator Company 2-12 Infantry Battalion take a rest in the yard of an Iraqi home during a joint patrol in the predominantly Sunni al-Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad. David Furst/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption David Furst/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Army soldiers from Gator Company 2-12 Infantry Battalion take a rest in the yard of an Iraqi

U.S. Army soldiers from Gator Company 2-12 Infantry Battalion take a rest in the yard of an Iraqi home during a joint patrol in the predominantly Sunni al-Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad.

David Furst/AFP/Getty Images

The House of Representatives has voted to impose a deadline of Aug. 1, 2008, for withdrawing all American combat troops from Iraq. In a vote mostly along partisan lines, Democrats attached the deadline to legislation authorizing more than $124 billion in emergency funds, mostly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill passed by a 218-212 vote.

In addition to war funding, the measure includes dispensations for veterans' health care and some non-military items. President Bush, who has threatened to veto such legislation, quickly responded from the White House, calling the vote "an act of political theater."

"Today, a narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility," Mr. Bush said, "by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law, and brings us no closer to getting our troops the resources they need to do their job."

Still, the vote's outcome was a major victory for Democrats. The real challenge now is molding how the public perceives it.

The House debate ended with competing pep rallies, as each side showcased its own leaders — and its heroes.

The Republicans brought out Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, a veteran who served several tours of duty in Vietnam.

"If we learned anything from those brave Marines who died trying to save innocent people that day at the embassy in Vietnam," Johnson said, "it's that Marines never quit. And neither should we."

Speaking for the Democrats was Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy, a former Army paratrooper who served in Iraq before he came to Congress. Murphy spoke of the soldiers who've died there — more than 3,200 of them.

"Nineteen of those coffins had soldiers I served with in Iraq, 19 paratroopers," Murphy said. "With this bill, with this vote, we mark the end of that era."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrapped up the debate.

"Any statement about Iraq must begin with a tribute to our troops," Pelosi said. "Today and every day, we thank our troops for their courage, patriotism, for sacrifices they and their families are willing to make."

In these snippets of the debate, there is much more than the lauding of the troops; there is also a struggle — just below the surface — for the public's perception of what happened in Congress Friday.

Republicans need to convince their supporters that they had good reason to vote against a bill that would send much-needed cash to the troops in the battlefield.

Democrats need to show their supporters that they're committed to both upholding the troops and ending the war.

This war of words is not easily won. The vote was, after all, 218-212. Fourteen Democrats voted against their leaders' bill — some because they want to end the war sooner, others because they don't want to set an end-date at all.

And two Republicans voted in favor of it — because they feel that the public is calling to bring an end to the fight.

In the battle over perception, President Bush weighed in as well. "The Democrats have sent their message; now it's time to send their money," the president said.

Mr. Bush vowed, once again, to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. The House debate, he said, was about little more than sending a message.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon says cash is running low in Iraq, and more money is needed by April 15. So Mr. Bush is making a gamble of his own: That the American public will blame Democrats for drafting a bill he won't pass — and not blame him for rejecting it.

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