Iraq Spending Vote a Challenge for Democrats Democrats in Congress are gearing up for big votes in their attempts to scale down the war in Iraq. The White House is requesting $100 billion in emergency war funding.
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Iraq Spending Vote a Challenge for Democrats

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Iraq Spending Vote a Challenge for Democrats

Iraq Spending Vote a Challenge for Democrats

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Efforts by congressional Democrats to wind down the war in Iraq are facing make-or-break votes in both the House and the Senate. At issue, more than $100 billion in emergency war funding requested by the White House. The House is deciding whether to approve that money with strings attached. A similar bill is being put to a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: House Democrats have produced a $124 billion war spending bill; that's $21 billion above what President Bush had asked for. That's because this must-pass legislation is loaded with goodies to ensure it does pass, everything from money for children's health insurance to relief for spinach farmers. Still, it's been a tough sell. That's mainly because this bill stipulates that most U.S. combat forces be out of Iraq by September of next year. Support for the bill remains so uncertain that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer paused when asked do you have 218 votes?

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): Well, we're getting there.

WELNA: Two hundred eighteen is the bare minimum Democrats need to pass the war-spending bill. Congressional expert Ron Peters of the University of Oklahoma says Democrats are divided over the bill.

Professor RON PETERS (Political Science, University of Oklahoma): It's a difficult situation, because obviously the Democrats are in danger of losing votes either on the left or on the right and I assume they cannot expect to get very many Republican votes.

WELNA: Democrats are under considerable pressure from anti-war constituents.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

WELNA: Some two dozen war protesters dressed in hot pink barged into a House dining hall yesterday. Medea Benjamin, who is one of their leaders, said they are urging Democrats who opposed the war to reject the spending bill as well.

Ms. MEDEA BENJAMIN (Founder, Global Exchange): We think that if the Democrats spend another $100 billion on this war, it's basically their war. They can't keep blaming Bush. So we're saying, if you buy it, you own it. Don't buy it.

WELNA: Georgia Democrat John Lewis has already decided he'll vote against the bill.

Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia): I oppose war. I oppose spending another dime, another penny on the war.

WELNA: And nothing will change your mind about that?

Rep. LEWIS: No.

WELNA: And conservative Democrat Gene Taylor of Mississippi also opposes the bill, but for different reasons.

Representative GENE TAYLOR (Democrat, Mississippi): The bill doesn't have a lot of good. The one part that gives me heartburn, as I said, would be the timeline.

WELNA: Like Taylor, House Republicans say they won't vote for any bill that puts strings on funding for troops. California's Ken Calvert spoke yesterday on the House floor.

Representative KEN CALVERT (Republican, California): The majority's supplemental bill is simply defeat on the installment plan. 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 as a blueprint for defeat.

WELNA: Minority Leader John Boehner says he has simply told his fellow Republicans to vote their conscience.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): The members are either for it or their against it. Although I think the majority of the Congress today is opposed to it.

WELNA: The vote, says the University of Oklahoma's Peters, is really about a show of strength by Democrats.

Prof. PETERS: I mean, everyone understands that this legislation is not going to finally be enacted into law. 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.

WELNA: Senate Democrats, meanwhile, vote in committee on their own war-spending bill. They've added to it a resolution the Senate rejected last week, setting the goal of having most combat troops out of Iraq by April of next year. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson voted against that resolution. But since Democrats have added benchmarks requiring progress in Iraq, he now supports the April 2008 timeline.

Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): It's an aspiration date. And it's there, but the essential part of this now is about the benchmarks.

WELNA: Still, unless a committee Republican crosses over, Democrats are one vote short of what they need for the bill to pass.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

(Soundbite of music)

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