The disconnect between the Democratically led Congress and the White House on the future of American involvement in the war in Iraq hit a crucial point on Thursday. Just as Democratic leaders in the House and Senate began their push for a plan to bring U.S. troops home next year, the newly appointed American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said more troops might be needed in order to accomplish the job.
Meanwhile, President Bush vowed to veto any attempt to set a timeline for the redeployment of troops.
While Congress cannot legally recall troops from Iraq, it does have the power to defund the war in Iraq, forcing the president's hand, and the fight over a $100 billion funding bill for the war is the latest battleground in the skirmish between Congress and the president over when and how to bring the troops home.
Democrats in both houses of Congress more or less agreed Thursday on a fixed timetable for ending the war, according to The New York Times, with the Senate plan setting a goal for troops to withdraw by March 31, 2008. The House measure called for an exit no later than August 2008, and like the Senate proposal, the measure is attached to an emergency spending bill that will be considered next week in the Appropriations Committee in which the president is asking for nearly $100 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republicans quickly vowed to block the Democratic push and the White House responded with strong language as well. "It would unnecessarily handcuff our generals on the ground, and it's safe to say it's a nonstarter for the president," said White House senior adviser Dan Bartlett.
While Democratic leaders in the House were optimistic about passing their legislation, chances in the Senate — where the Democrats hold a slim, two-seat majority — were less likely, given the opposition from Bush and Republicans.
Amid all the wrangling, new American commander Petraeus warned that even with the recent troop "surge" of more than 21,500 ordered by Bush, more soldiers might be needed in order to finish the job and he stressed that the U.S. commitment to Iraq must remain open-ended (see "President Bush Orders 21,500 More Troops To Iraq; Democrats Blast Plan").
The proposal from the House Democrats would require Bush to certify that the Iraqi government is meeting a series of military, political and economic benchmarks, according to the Times. If he fails to do that, the legislation calls for the majority of combat troops to be removed starting in July and ending by December 31. And, given the tense rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran, the legislation would also prohibit any military action against Iran without authorization from Congress.
In an attempt to build bipartisan support for the measure, Democrats also proposed spending an additional $900 million to help troops recover from brain injuries and post-traumatic stress, as well as $1.2 billion more than Bush requested to fight terrorists in Afghanistan. The bill is also loaded with other provisions that would make it hard to vote against, such as money for Gulf Coast recovery efforts, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, agriculture disaster programs and security.