WASHINGTON – Setting in motion a promised showdown with the White House, Democratic congressional leaders united Monday behind an emergency war-spending measure that requires the president to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq no later than this autumn.
The $124 billion compromise – which does not include a firm deadline for President Bush to end U.S. combat involvement in the conflict – is headed for a certain presidential veto.
But as Congress and the White House face off over the course of U.S. policy in Iraq, Monday’s agreement marked the prologue for a week that will produce the most serious legislative challenge to a wartime president since Vietnam. The House and Senate, with the support of most Democrats, are expected to approve the measure by Thursday.
And Bush, who only once in the past six years has vetoed legislation, could invoke his power by the end of the week.
Democrats, who cannot muster enough votes to overcome a veto, have hinted that they then will send the president a funding bill without timelines but insist they will keep up the pressure on Bush to end the U.S. combat role.
“We may not be able to prevent President Bush from vetoing our supplemental bill, but we can and will keep trying to change his mind,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a speech Monday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Bush has argued that setting dates for bringing troops home would allow America’s enemies to wait out U.S. forces.
“Politicians in Washington shouldn’t be telling generals how to do their job,” the president said after meeting at the White House with the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. “I will strongly reject an artificial timetable.”
But emboldened by public opposition to the war and disenchantment with the president, Democrats show no signs of relenting in their legislative campaign to compel the White House to start bringing home U.S. troops.
The compromise approved Monday sets a nonbinding goal for completing withdrawal. But it maintains a link between the withdrawal timeline and the performance of the Iraqi government.
The compromise plan calls for a withdrawal to begin July 1 if Bush does not certify that the Iraqi government is making progress on a series of “reconciliation initiatives,” with a goal of completing the withdrawal within 180 days, which would end Dec. 27.
If the president demonstrates the Iraqi government is making progress, the Democratic plan mandates that the withdrawal begin Oct. 1 and sets a goal for completing that withdrawal by March 28. Like the earlier House and Senate proposals, the compromise plan allows some U.S. troops to remain to train Iraqi forces, protect American interests and conduct limited counter-terrorism operations.
It also requires the president to publicly explain why he is deploying military units abroad, if they have not met a series of readiness standards, including adequate training and rest at their home bases.