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Passage of US Bill to Fund Iraq, Afghanistan Wars Likely by Friday

22 May 2007

U.S. congressional Democrats have dropped their demands to include in a war funding bill a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. At the same time, they are vowing to seek other ways to press the Bush administration to change the course of the unpopular war. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Congressional Democrats bowed to political realities in making the key concession to the White House.

The House and Senate passed a bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan last month, but President Bush vetoed it because it also contained a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by April first of next year.

Mr. Bush and many Republicans argued that setting such a timeline amounted to "a surrender date".

Although Democrats control both houses of Congress, they do not have large enough majorities to override a presidential veto.

So Democratic leaders decided to strip the bill of the timeline in order to pass a measure the president could sign.

With money for the Iraq war due to run out in the coming weeks, Democrats did not want to be blamed for standing in the way of funding the troops when they return to their home districts for a week-long recess that is set to begin Friday.

Despite the concession, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada refused to characterize the move as a defeat for Democrats, many of whom strongly supported including the withdrawal timetable in the war funding bill.

Reid said Democrats would try to attach a timeline to a defense bill that will come before lawmakers later this year. "We are going to continue focusing every day on the need to change direction in Iraq, change the mission in Iraq," he said.

The Senate's top Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, looked forward to completing the bill before lawmakers head out of town for the Memorial Day holiday. "Hopefully, we will get through this process before Memorial Day. I know that has been the desire of the Majority Leader, to finish the bill, get the bill to the President for his signature without a 'surrender date'. I think that is the direction we are headed."

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow refused to characterize the Democrats' concession as a victory for the administration: "What will be seen as a victory is providing, through the end of the fiscal year, the funding and flexibility the forces need. That's what we've wanted all along," he said.

Although details of the bill have yet to be worked out, lawmakers say the measure would fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through September. It also is expected to include political and security "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government to meet, including passing an oil law and disbanding militias. If Iraqis fail to meet those benchmarks, the president would have the authority to withhold U.S. reconstruction aid to Iraq.

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