House votes challenge Bush on war

Peace advocates are calling May 15 a historic day — when the House of Representatives voted “no confidence” in President Bush’s Iraq war policy passing a series of antiwar and domestic-needs measures and defeating, temporarily, additional war funding.

By a vote of 227-196, with the support of 94 percent of House Democrats and 8 Republicans, the House voted for a timetable for withdrawing troops starting within 30 days and ending within 18 months.

The measure bars Bush from binding the next administration to keeping troops in Iraq. Bush has been trying to bypass Congress to get a signed agreement by July, locking in U.S. military presence there. Any agreement between the United States and the Iraqi government committing U.S. forces, the measure specifies, must be authorized by Congress.

The House-passed amendment also requires that troops have rest periods of more than a year between rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It bars permanent U.S. bases in Iraq and bans torture, prohibiting interrogation techniques not authorized in the Army Field Manual.

David Cohen of the Council for a Livable World sees the House action as laying the groundwork for ending the war with a new administration. “This amendment established significant ground rules limiting the president’s authority to wage an unrestrained war” by “sharply drawing the line with Bush policies,” Cohen wrote on the group’s web site. The withdrawal timetable provision, he said, establishes “a framework for a supportive president to begin a process of orderly troop withdrawal that protects our troops.”

By a vote of 256-166, the House also approved another amendment expanding the GI Bill, to be paid for by taxing the rich, as well as extending unemployment insurance. It also puts a hold on Bush Medicare cuts and provides funding for New Orleans levees.

The amendment was supported by 97 percent of House Democrats. They were joined by 32 Republicans — 17 percent of House Republicans — who voted for the measure in defiance of Bush and the GOP leadership.

The measure expands veterans’ education benefits for 10 years at an investment of $52 billion dollars. It extends the program to National Guard members who presently do not receive GI education benefits. Funding is provided by a 0.5 percent surtax on couples earning more than $1 million or individuals earning more than $500,000. The White House singled out this provision in its threat to veto the measure.

The amendment extends unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks in every state for workers who have exhausted their benefits, and adds an additional 13 weeks in states with high unemployment.

In the most paradoxical action, the House voted 149-141 against additional funding for the Iraq war, with 132 Republicans voting “present.” The unexpected GOP maneuver was seen as an effort to come up with new tactics to put Democrats on the spot, spurred by what Cohen described as “the panic House Republicans have in losing three straight by-elections in rock-ribbed Republican House districts.”

Sixty-three percent of House Democrats voted against the war funding. Those voting for it largely represent conservative districts that voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004.

The Bush administration has made a practice of funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through “emergency” supplemental funding requests outside the regular budget process. Bush’s current supplemental funding request was for $100 billion for fiscal 2008, which runs through September, and $66 billion for the first half of fiscal 2009, up to March 2009.

The House Democratic leadership structured the war funding bill as three separate amendments to allow lawmakers a range of options for challenging the war. Those antiwar Democrats who wanted to vote against more funds were able to do so, while others from more conservative districts who worried about being accused of not supporting the troops could vote for troop pullout and other measures challenging Bush without going on record for cutting off funding.

The leadership also combined the two funding requests for a vote now to avoid handing the Republicans a platform for “support the troops” campaign demagoguery during the fall election campaign.

The Senate was expected to approve the supplemental war funding through March 2009 and remove most of the other measures. A House-Senate committee will negotiate final legislation.

But the Senate Appropriations Committee retained the prohibition on any long-term agreement committing troops without prior congressional approval. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who was among those pushing Congress to stand up to Bush on the issue, applauded the committee action.

“For more than six years, the administration has been less than open with the American public or Congress about its long-term intentions in Iraq,” he said in a statement. “It is a constitutional duty of the Congress to guard against allowing this administration to position the next president into a situation where the United States has agreed to support a long-term military presence in Iraq.”