STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The Democrats are preparing to debate one day after Democrats in the House made another statement about the war in Iraq.
The House approved $50 billion to fund that war. The vote was not overwhelming, 218 to 203. And Democrats attached strings to the money. It calls on President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq starting in 30 days with the goal of having most U.S. forces out of the country by the end of next year. The measure has little chance of approval in the Senate, which takes it up today, and the White House says the president will veto this bill should it reach his desk.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Once again last night, Majority Democrats and the House of Representatives began a process they hope will force a change in administration policy in Iraq, even though they knew from the outset they had little chance of success.
Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern said by passing this funding measure, Congress was rejecting what he called the president's vision of endless war.
Representative JIM MCGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): It is not acceptable for the president to simply run out the clock and hand this problem off to his successor. This is a war that George Bush started and this is a war that he needs to end. For the sake of our troops for the sake of our country we need to support this legislation. Enough is enough.
NAYLOR: The measure would spend $50 billion, about a quarter of what the president has asked for, to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year. Democrats said the money was to pay for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country, which would begin within a month of the bill's enactment.
Republicans countered such conditions made no sense at a time when, according to reports, violence levels in Iraq have been in decline.
California Republican David Dreier said it's unclear whether it was a temporary lull or a true turning point.
Representative DAVID DREIER (Republican, California): Mister Speaker, it is deeply heartening to see the beginnings of victory. And, no, I'm not saying mission accomplished or anything like that because we know full well that we have difficult days ahead, but it is deeply heartening to see the beginnings of victory in Iraq.
NAYLOR: Indiana Republican Mike Pence argued this was not the time for Congress to micromanage the war.
Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): With unambiguous evidence of progress on the ground in Iraq, the Democrats in Congress seemed to have added denial to their agenda of retreat and defeat.
NAYLOR: Besides calling for a goal of having most U.S. forces out of Iraq by the end of next year. The bill also contains a provision banning the use of harsh interrogation techniques by all government agencies, including the CIA.
New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler said that in his words, it would mean the end of torture by the U.S. government.
Representative JERROLD NADLER (Democrat, New York): In short, that means no more waterboarding, no more clever word play, no more evasive answers, and no more uncertainty with regard to what is allowed and what is not allowed. It is time to restore the honor of the United States and to force the administration to act in a manner consistent with the constitution.
NAYLOR: Last night's vote was, by Republican tallies, the 41st time the House has voted on Iraq-related legislation since Democrats took control of Congress in January. And it seems unlikely that this latest measure will have any more of an impact on the Bush administration's war policy than previous tries. The White House yesterday said the president would veto the bill, saying it infringes on the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief and would mandate, quote, "a precipitous withdrawal of troops."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met behind closed doors with senators yesterday afternoon to urge them not to approve the measure. And Senate Republican leaders have promised a filibuster. If it fails in the Senate, Democrats say the Pentagon will have to make do with funds contained in a separate non-war funding bill already signed by the president.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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