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US House of Representatives Debates New War Bills

10 May 2007

In the latest challenge by Democrats to President Bush over funding for military operations in Iraq, the House of Representatives is debating a new bill to support troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill where Republicans opposed the legislation, and an accompanying measure calling for the rapid withdrawal U.S. forces and contractors from Iraq within 60 days.

Democrats divided the war funding measure vetoed by the president last month into three pieces.

A main bill, scheduled for a vote late Thursday, would provide $43 billion for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan through July, including funds to train Iraqi and Afghan security forces.

Congress would take another vote before its long summer recess in August on whether to release nearly $53 billion more to maintain operations through September.

In a move to satisfy members on the far left of their party who have called for a rapid U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Democratic leaders also brought a separate measure to the floor calling for a rapid withdrawal of combat forces, and private contractors, in Iraq.

A third measure contains funding for agriculture and other needs, spending that Republicans and the president said should not have been linked to the war bill.

On the House floor, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter said Democrats strategy is aimed at a responsible withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"We sought then as we do now to end this war, but to do so responsibly without adding to the suffering the Iraqi people and our soldiers have already experienced," she said.

David Dreier, a California Republican, renewed charges that Democrats are engaging in a "political charade".

"Funding our troops who are in harm's way is not a game," he said. "These votes may make my friends on the other side of the aisle feel good, but they are doing anything to get our troops what they need to protect themselves and to fight effectively against terrorists around the world."

If approved by the House, the new funding measure faces almost certain defeat in the Senate.

In remarks at the Pentagon Thursday, President Bush rejected in advance the Democrat-crafted legislation splitting war funding.

Democrats he said should provide full funding for the military now, and said decisions on troops levels in Iraq should await a report from the U.S. Iraq commander General David Petraeus.

"Recommendations about troop levels based upon the conditions on the ground, which stands in stark contrast to members of Congress who say we are going to determine troops levels based upon politics, or the latest opinion poll, or how we can get our members elected," he said.

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow provided some general details about the president's meeting with a group of 11 Republican House lawmakers this past Tuesday.

Republicans who took part said they gave the president a blunt assessment, including a description of Americans as being "fatigued" by the war in Iraq and the possible impact on Republican's electoral prospects.

Republican Congressman Christopher Shays, who spoke to colleagues who met the president, had this reaction to the meeting in comments to VOA.

"This president is very willing to listen," said Shays. "He has his positions, which are heartfelt. He knows that there have to be compromises at the end of the day. But he wants to give the Iraqis a chance to stand up on their own and not pull the rug out from under them, given that we attacked them and given that we eliminated all their army, their police and their border patrol. He feels that obligation and so do I.

In rejecting what he called the "haphazard and piecemeal" funding measure, the president said he agreed that requiring the Iraqi government to meet specific political and economic benchmarks, in his words, makes sense.

The president said his chief of staff would be working with lawmakers to find common ground on that issue as efforts to resolve the funding standoff continue.

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