(AFP) – May 15, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US House of Representatives Thursday rejected 163 billion dollars in emergency spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, in an unexpected but symbolic twist to a fierce political battle over war funding.
The House did however pass two other components of the same bill, which called for troop withdrawals to start within 30 days and be completed by December 2009, and a package of education benefits for returning soldiers.
President George W. Bush has vowed to veto the measure, and the Democrats are still well short of two-thirds majorities needed in the House or the Senate to overturn a veto and enforce changes to Iraq war policy.
A unusual number of 132 lawmakers, mostly Republicans, abstained, or voted present, in a procedural ambush on war funding, in protest at the way the legislation was handled by the Democratic leadership.
A total of 141 lawmakers backed the bill, and 149 opposed it, in an indication of the splits in the Democratic Party over whether to continue funding the five-year war in Iraq.
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner accused the Democratic leadership of "playing political games on the backs of our troops" by trying to pass a bill they knew the president would not sign.
Bush had earlier Thursday threatened to veto the bill over the troop timelines and what he sees as unnecessary domestic spending tucked into the measure.
The Senate was expected to consider its own version of a war spending bill early next week, and any action would also have to be passed through the House before being sent to the president.
The symbolic showdown was the latest angry tussle between the White House and the Democratic-led Congress over the funding of the war, which has killed more than 4,077 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
The House bill included an extra "millionaire tax" on wealthy Americans to pay for education at state universities for soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, modeled on the "GI bill" after World War II.
That measure is seen as unlikely to make it through the Senate.
In another sticking point with the president, the bill requires that troops begin redeploying from Iraq within 30 days of enactment with a goal of getting all combat troops home by December 2009.
Democrats in both the House and the Senate have repeatedly failed to enforce troop withdrawal timelines on Bush, who has refused all attempts by Congress to change his war strategy.
The bill also requires any agreement between the United States and Iraq on future troop levels to be specifically authorized by Congress.
Bush administration officials have resisted attempts by Congress to compel it to pass a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which is being negotiated with Baghdad, to lawmakers for approval.
The House measure would also require Iraqis to match US reconstruction aid dollar-for-dollar.
In a statement on Thursday, the White House said the measure exceeded Bush's 108-billion-dollar request for the fiscal year that ends on September 30, and rejected its "artificial" timelines for withdrawal.
"Because Congress has failed to address these criteria ... if this bill were presented in its current form, he would veto it," the statement said.
The administration is also concerned that the education benefits contained in the bill would harm retention rates in the US armed forces, though was ready to discuss how to reward troops in such a way in later legislation.
It also hit out at the tax increase to fund the benefits, which Democrats have styled as a "patriot tax."
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