Published March 24, 2007
WASHINGTON – House Democrats called for a new direction in Iraq on Friday, passing a measure ordering President Bush to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September 2008.
Bush vowed to veto the measure if it makes it to his desk.
"A narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility 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," Bush said from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room while joined by family members of veterans and troops in combat.
Bush called on Congress to fund the troops, saying the current bill contains "too much pork, too many conditions."
"The purpose of the emergency war spending bill I requested was to provide our troops with vital funding. Instead, Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq."
High-ranked senators also vowed Friday to strip the language from the bill that requires troop withdrawal.
Democrats won passage by a 218-212 vote on the $124 billion war spending bill, which will fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Today, this Congress faces a historic vote. A vote to truly change the direction of the Iraqi conflict,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., just before the vote.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, also called the vote "historic," urging colleagues to vote against the measure.
"Our troops are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing their duty to protect freedom and to end tyranny," House Minority Leader Boehner said. "They're there watching this debate we're having in the House today and wondering, 'Will Congress do its duty? Will Congress stand up and support he mission that I'm in?' "
The vote puts Congress closer to a showdown with the White House over Bush's Iraq policy.
Bush will veto the bill, White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters at Friday's briefing.
"Look, the president's going to veto this bill, and he's going to veto it because even though it provides some funding, it also puts handcuffs on generals, colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, privates, and everybody else," Snow said.
Most Republicans opposed the Democrats' plan, which also included budget requests not related to war spending.
"What we got instead was a poorly assembled wish list of non-emergency spending requests, wrapped in a date-certain declaration of defeat — a confirmation to our enemies that, if they hang on just a bit longer, we'll be out of their way soon," said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., told fellow lawmakers a vote against the bill would be a vote against funding for the troops, health care and military families.
“You’re voting against supporting the troops if you’re voting against the money that goes to the troops,” Murtha said.
Bush urged Congress to approve the bill without a timeline during a meeting Thursday with his Iraqi civilian reconstruction team.
"The Congress owes you the money you need to do the job, without any strings attached," he said. "Congress needs to get their business done quickly, get the monies we've requested funded and let our folks on the ground do the job."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that if Congress fails to pass a measure funding the war efforts by April 15, it will slow down training of troops scheduled for future deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates says it would also delay repair of equipment.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a $121 billion version of Bush's emergency war spending request, but bucked the White House by putting in language that sets a date-specific timeframe for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
The Senate bill sets a March 31, 2008, goal for withdrawing all combat troops out of Iraq. The legislation, which also gobs on billions in special projects at home, now heads to the Senate floor for a vote by the full chamber.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., issued a statement Friday chafing at the administration's veto threat. The Appropriations Committee chairman said the White House was ignoring homeland security problems and the needs of veterans and hurricane victims.
"The president continues to warn that we are a nation at grave risk of terrorist attacks, but he failed to request a single dime for homeland security priorities. The American people are sick and tired of Bush administration bellicosity. The White House ought to stop worrying about its political future, and instead should work with Congress to guarantee the security and economic future of this nation," Byrd said.
The full Senate likely will take up the bill next week, and a number of high-ranked senators said they aim to strip out the withdrawal language through an amendment they will offer Tuesday.
"We're not prepared to tell the enemy, 'Hang on, we'll give you a date when we're leaving.' We're not prepared to micromanage this new strategy ... and surge that's succeeding in Iraq. We're not ready to hamstring our military leaders and not let them carry their responsibilities," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is co-sponosoring the amemdment.
Joining him, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said, "Deadliens set by Congress in war are deadlines for defeat." McCain and Lieberman were joined by Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's standalone measure to set a timeline for the withdrawal of troops failed last week by a 50-48 vote.
The House measure is unlikely to get through the Senate unchanged, where many Democrats oppose a timetable on the war.
FOX News' Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.