House, Senate Agree on Timetable for Iraq Pullout
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When a suicide bomber killed nine American soldiers and wounded more outside Baghdad yesterday, became one of the deadliest days for troops since the war began.
On that same day in Washington, Congress set the stage for a high-stakes showdown with President bush over how long U.S. troops should remain in Iraq. In reconciling emergency war-spending bills, House and Senate Democrats agreed on a single timeline for redeploying troops from Iraq. The president renewed his pledge to veto such a bill. NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: Unlike the war-funding bill passed by the House, this one does not require all U.S. combat forces to leave Iraq by September of next year. Instead it says troop redeployment shall begin no later than this October and it sets a target six months later for finishing that redeployment.
House Appropriations chair David Obey conceded the House's binding withdrawal date was dropped in favor the Senate's softer non-binding date.
Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): It is a shorter timetable than the House bill contained but it is described as a goal rather than as a hard and fast date.
WELNA: Still, Pennsylvania House Democrat Jack Murtha pointed out the bill has performance benchmarks for Iraqis. It also insists on troops being combat ready before being sent to Iraq, unless the president publicly waives that requirement.
Representative JACK MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): This is called the Iraq Accountability Act and it should be that, because we have to hold them accountable.
WELNA: Some Republicans acknowledge sharing Murtha's weariness of the war, including Florida Congressman Bill Young.
Representative BILL YOUNG (Republican, Florida): We've seen too many of our wounded kids at the hospitals. We've seen too many - we've attended too many funerals. We want this over. We want the Iraqis to take over the responsibility.
WELNA: But other GOP lawmakers scolded the Democrats for wasting time in a futile effort. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens said they were simply overreaching.
Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): This bill contains an unwarranted intrusion into the Constitutional powers of the executive. I believe that any president would veto this bill.
WELNA: Indeed, at a White House appearance yesterday with Iraq commander General David Petraeus, President Bush made clear he fully intends to veto the war-spending bill.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: A artificial timetable of withdrawal would say to an enemy just wait them out. It would say to the Iraqis - don't do hard things necessary to achieve our objectives, and it would be discouraging for our troops. And therefore I will strongly reject a artificial timetable withdrawal and/or Washington politicians are trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their job.
WELNA: Two hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shot back, accusing the president of being the one person who fails to face the war's reality.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): As long as the president remains obstinate and his Republican allies stick with him, we will continue to face an uphill climb, but the American people deserve to know that we hear them and we're standing up for them.
WELNA: Reid described what he called a restlessness among some people who voted for change in November and want the war to end now. But like it or not, he added, President Bush is still commander in chief and it's his war. As Appropriations Chair Obey put it, Democrats are doing what they can do.
Rep. OBEY: There are only three ways that you're going to change course on the war. One is for the president to change his mind, which he's not going to do. The second is to get to two-thirds vote to override a veto, which we don't have. And then the third is simply to put enough pressure on the Republican members of the House so that they eventually change their mind. You can't do that if you're not unified.
WELNA: But some conservative Democrats only backed this bill in order to get one with no timelines. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson is one of them.
Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): I think the president vetoes it, it comes back, and the dates come out.
WELNA: It's still not clear though what kind of a second spending bill might emerge.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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