By EDWARD EPSTEIN
San Francisco Chronicle
March 21, 2007
One, even with a full-court press for votes, passage will come narrowly, if at all. Two, President Bush says that if legislation setting any sort of deadline for ending U.S. involvement in Iraq makes it to his desk, he will veto it.
With the war entering its fifth year and with the narrowly divided Senate virtually deadlocked because its rules require 60 votes to pass anti-war legislation, the House debate takes center stage this week.
Pelosi's Democrats have a 233-201 majority in the House, which has one vacancy, and only a handful of Republicans are expected to cross their party's leaders and vote for the $124 billion war-spending bill that has been sweetened with billions in domestic spending.
The legislation, called the supplemental appropriation, would provide money to pay for the war effort through the end of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30. It would set a timetable tied to performance benchmarks for the Iraqi government that would pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by the end of next summer.
The bill also includes requirements for troop deployment, training and equipment intended to slow Bush-ordered deployment of almost 30,000 more American troops to Iraq - although the president can waive the rules publicly to move the forces more quickly into the war.
The Democratic House leadership will need near-unanimity among its members to pass the bill. California's Pelosi and the deputies face a challenge winning support from a caucus that includes conservative Blue Dog Caucus members worried the bill may restrict the president more than they want and ardent anti-war Out of Iraq Caucus lawmakers who think the measure's restrictions don't go far or fast enough.
Capitol Hill estimates of the number of Democrats who will go against Pelosi range from 10 to 25, on up to 40. Any number much above 15 could scuttle the bill, handing Pelosi the first significant defeat in her 2-1/2 months as speaker. Coupled with last week's defeat in the Senate of a resolution calling for redeployment of U.S. forces in four months, a House setback would stagger anti-war forces in Congress.
But Democrats can't give up, because their most loyal voters want action. A new CNN poll showed that 91 percent of Democrats oppose the war in Iraq, along with 24 percent of Republicans. A Newsweek poll showed that 78 percent of Democrats support the August 2008 withdrawal deadline.
"I think it's going to be pretty close," said an aide to one key House Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Pelosi team's lobbying efforts got a boost Monday when MoveOn.org, an anti-war group influential among liberal Democrats, endorsed the spending bill after an online poll of its members. It said 85 percent of the more than 126,000 who participated wanted the group to back the bill.
Another heartening sign for Democratic leaders as they lobby for the needed votes is that all but one of the House Appropriations Committee's Democrats voted for the legislation last Thursday.
The lone "no" vote came from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who has never voted for any money for the Iraq war. She was also the only House member to vote in 2001 against attacking Afghanistan for harboring the terrorist group al Qaeda.
But seven Blue Dogs and 10 Out of Iraq members supported the bill at the Appropriations Committee.
To woo members, the bill provides about $29 billion in spending unrelated directly to Iraq and Afghanistan. This includes billions more for veterans' health care, drought relief, help for the Gulf Coast to recover from hurricane damage and an assortment of smaller items.
To reflect the additions and make voting for it more palatable, sponsors have given it an all-American moniker: the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act.
In his brief White House comments Monday marking the anniversary of his 2003 launch of the "shock and awe" campaign against Saddam Hussein's forces, Bush made clear his strong opposition to the House bill.
He said members of Congress "have a responsibility to ensure that this bill provides the funds and the flexibility that our troops need to accomplish their mission. They have a responsibility to pass a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special-interest spending for their districts. And they have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay."
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions