WASHINGTON – House Democratic leaders predict they will have enough votes to pass legislation requiring U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq by Oct. 1 and send it on to President Bush for his promised veto.
Several House members said they would go along with the bill negotiated with the Senate in a bid for party unity despite their desire for an earlier, binding withdrawal date.
The House vote scheduled Wednesday would come as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and other defense officials try to convince lawmakers that a timetable would push Iraq into chaos. Bush's promise guarantees a showdown with Democrats emboldened by last year's election, which handed them control of Congress.
"For the first time, the president will have to be accountable for this war in Iraq," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday. "And he does not want to face that reality."
The $124.2 billion bill would fund, among other things, the war in Iraq but trigger the withdrawal of troops beginning this fall. It sets a nonbinding goal of completing the pullout by April 1, 2008.
Troops could remain in Iraq after the 2008 date but only for limited non-combat missions, including counterterrorism operations and training Iraqi forces.
The bill, already negotiated with Senate leaders, is expected to reach the president's desk as early as next week following a final Senate vote Thursday.
Democrats view the November elections that allowed them to take control of the House and the Senate as a referendum on Bush's conduct of the war. Bush, however, says he stands firm on his latest strategy for winning the war and dismisses as counterproductive the Democratic call for withdrawal.
"That means our commanders in the middle of a combat zone would have to take fighting directions from legislators 6,000 miles away on Capitol Hill," Bush told reporters Tuesday. "The result would be a marked advantage for our enemies and a greater danger for our troops."
Whether Democratic leaders had enough votes to pass the bill in the House has been in question. The original House bill included a binding timeline, demanding combat ends by September 2008. Several of the 218 members who approved the bill said they reluctantly agreed to back the binding timeline even though they wanted troops home sooner.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of the Democratic caucus, said, "We feel very good about where the caucus is."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats will send Bush the bill with the hope that the president has a change of heart. But, Hoyer added, they don't expect it.
"We are very, very hopeful that the president will sign that bill, will change his mind and come to the recognition that this bill does in fact set off a new policy for our engagement in Iraq," Hoyer said.
Democrats, with their slim margins in the House and Senate, are unlikely to override Bush's veto.
The White House and Democrats traded insults Tuesday. Vice President Dick Cheney accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of pursuing a defeatist strategy in Iraq to win votes at home.
"Some Democratic leaders seem to believe that blind opposition to the new strategy in Iraq is good politics," Cheney told reporters at the Capitol after attending the weekly Republican policy lunch. "Senator Reid himself has said that the war in Iraq will bring his party more seats in the next election."
"It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage," Cheney said.
Reid, D-Nev., dismissed Cheney's comments. "I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with the administration's chief attack dog," he told reporters.