WASHINGTON — Voicing anger that Congress approved an Iraq spending bill May 24 with no timeline to withdraw U.S. troops, antiwar activists vowed to press on with demands that the lawmakers “do what voters elected them to do” and pass legislation to end the war.

The vote was 280-142 in the House. A majority of Democrats, 140, voted against the spending bill, joined by two Republicans. Eleven House members did not vote. But 86 Democrats broke ranks and voted with 194 Republicans to approve the measure.

The Senate voted 80-14 in favor of the bill with six not voting. The legislation requires Bush to report in July on “benchmarks” imposed on the Iraqi government, but the peace movement says these are toothless since Bush can claim a waiver.

Judith Le Blanc, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, told the World the peace movement will not slacken its pressure on Congress to approve legislation with a deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

“Now is the time, at every turn, to raise again the issue of a deadline,” she said. “Republicans are beginning to peel away from Bush’s endless war. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq is actually causing more deaths of U.S. troops and Iraqis. There is more urgency than ever to setting a deadline for troop withdrawal.”

The death of 10 American soldiers on Memorial Day in the crash of a helicopter and explosion of roadside bombs pushed May’s death toll to at least 112. That exceeded April’s death toll of 102 and brought the total of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq to 3,506. At least 25,225 soldiers have suffered wounds. And estimates of the Iraqi war dead are in the hundreds of thousands.

“Bush argues that if you de-fund the war, you put the troops in harm’s way,” Le Blanc continued. “In fact, it is the opposite. Those who voted against the appropriation did so because the only way to protect the troops is to withdraw them. Lawmakers who voted ‘no’ were registering their strong view that there must be a deadline.”

A majority of members of the Iraqi Parliament have signed a statement calling for a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal and a majority of the American people favor a deadline for withdrawal, she continued. “This is the basis on which Congress should act. We must focus on every congressional district where the congressperson has not taken a stand for withdrawal. We must engage them in dialogue and subject them to grassroots pressure.”

The struggle for a withdrawal deadline will be a central focus at UFPJ’s National Assembly in Chicago June 22-24, as the nationwide coalition of over 1,400 local and national groups projects next steps to end the war.

A significant number of those who voted for the spending bill “agree with us and want the war to end,” said Le Blanc. But many represent conservative districts and fear being tarred by the Republican right as abandoning troops under fire, putting them at risk of defeat in the upcoming 2008 elections. “The job of the peace movement is to convince them that they have the support of the people in moving to end the war.”

In two or three weeks, the House and Senate will take up the overall military appropriations bill, she said. “There is discussion in Congress about amending that bill with a deadline for troop withdrawal. Then again in July, Congress is supposed to review the situation in Iraq. Those are target dates for the peace movement to pressure those who voted for the supplemental to support a deadline for withdrawal this time.”

That message was echoed by other antiwar groups. In a statement, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI) said it was “deeply disappointed in the Iraq supplemental bill.” While the divided Democrats failed to stand for a troop withdrawal, “Republicans in Congress stood with Bush and obstructed the will of the American people.” AAEI cited polls showing “a five point drop in support for Republicans in 2008 battleground districts during the last month” because of outrage over the war.

Win Without War Co-Chair Susan Shaer, who is also executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions, blasted Republican lawmakers who “choose loyalty to the Bush administration over representing their constituents” and chided the Democrats for being “cowed by President Bush much too swiftly.”

“As a coalition of more than 40 organizations representing millions of Americans who want a diplomatic solution in Iraq,” she said, “Win Without War will remain insistent that Congress use its power to bring our troops home quickly and safely.”