President Bush said he supports a $120 billion Iraq war spending bill on track to to pass Congress Thursday, ending weeks of wrangling with congressional Democrats on how long U.S. troops should stay. The bill funds the war through September as Bush wanted and does not set a date for troop withdrawals. In exchange for dropping restrictions on the military, Bush agreed to some $17 billion in spending added by Democrats to fund domestic and military-related projects.
“By voting for this bill, members of both parties can show our troops and the Iraqis and the enemy that our country will support our service men and women in harm’s way,” Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference. Democrats said they were disappointed with the deal.
“I hate this agreement,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Obey said the deal was the best that Democrats could do manage because “the White House is in a cloud somewhere in terms of understanding the realities in Iraq.”
The bill includes the nearly $100 billion that President Bush requested for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as billions in domestic spending, including $6.4 billion in hurricane relief and $3 billion in agricultural assistance. Republicans were unhappy about the added domestic spending, but said they were relieved the final measure did not attempt to set a timetable on the war.
“We cannot and will not abandon the Iraqis to be butchered by these terrorists in their midst,” said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif. “And we cannot and will not abandon our mission just as real progress is starting to be made.” While the measure does not include a timetable on the war, it does threaten to withhold U.S. aid dollars for Iraq if Baghdad fails to make progress on political and security reforms. The president, however, could waive that restriction.
Bush said Iraq’s ability to meet the benchmarks outlined in the bill would be difficult.
“It’s going to be hard work for this young government,” he said. “After all, the Iraqis are recovering from decades of brutal dictatorship.” The hefty spending bill has become a lightning rod for political attacks on Bush and his handling of the deeply unpopular war, which has killed more than 3,400 U.S. troops and cost more than $300 billion. But it also has exposed a sharp divide among Democrats on how far Congress should go to end the war.
Democratic presidential contenders on Capitol Hill are vying for the anti-war vote, but at the same time do not want to appear as though they are turning their backs on the military.
“I believe as long as we have troops in the front line, we’re going to have to protect them,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. “We’re going to have to fund them.”
Biden was alone among the potential Democratic candidates in immediately pledging his support for the bill.
Two front-runners, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, declined to say how they intended to vote on the measure.