Democrats to back down on Iraq war conditions
By Richard Cowan
Democrats in the Congress, who came to power last year on a call to end the combat in Iraq, will soon give President George W. Bush the last war-funding bill of his presidency without any of the conditions they sought for withdrawing U.S. troops, congressional aides said on Monday.
Lawmakers are arranging to send Bush $165 billion in new money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, enough to last for about a year and well beyond when Bush leaves office on January 20.
"It'll be the lump sum of money, veterans (funding) and that's it," said one House aide familiar with the negotiations on the legislation.
The aide was referring to the funding for the unpopular Iraq war, now in its sixth year, and a measure being attached to expand education benefits for combat veterans.
A House of Representatives vote on the war-funding bill was expected this week. Anything the House passes would have to be approved by the Senate before the legislation is sent to Bush.
With the Pentagon running out of money to continue fighting the two wars, Congress is trying to approve new funds before its July 4 holiday recess.
With this bill, Congress will have written checks for more than $800 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with most of the money going to Iraq.
Since January, 2007, when Democrats took majority control of the House and Senate, they have tried to force Bush to change course in Iraq, mostly through troop withdrawal timetables and requirements that U.S. soldiers be more thoroughly trained, equipped and rested before returning to combat.
And while various versions have passed each chamber since then, there have not been enough votes in Congress to enact the war conditions over Bush's objections.
DEMOCRATS LOOKING TO BUSH SUCCESSOR
The result is that the 110th Congress will wrap up most of its work this fall, before November's congressional and presidential elections, without forcing any changes to Bush's open-ended war policy, the defining issue of his presidency.
Anti-war Democrats instead are looking to Bush's successor, hoping it is fellow-Democrat Barack Obama, to bring at least some of the 147,000 U.S. troops home from Iraq.
Speaking to reporters in Michigan where he was campaigning, Obama said he was "encouraged" by the reduction in violence in Iraq, but underlined the importance of beginning "the process of withdrawing U.S. troops."
John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, has backed Bush's opposition to Congress setting timetables.
Democrats enter this campaign season poised to expand their House and Senate majorities.
Instead of Iraq being the dominant issue this campaign season, it has been the U.S. economy, jolted by skyrocketing energy prices and mounting home foreclosures, that has gotten most of the attention.
The war-spending bill has been the staging ground for a Democratic initiative to expand domestic unemployment benefits, in addition to the added veterans benefits.