Bowing to President George Bush, the Democratic-controlled Congress grudgingly approved fresh billions for the Iraq war, minus the troop withdrawal timeline that sparked his earlier veto.
“The Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America’s continued support and sacrifice,” the president said, and he warned that August could prove to be a bloody month for US troops in Baghdad’s murderous neighbourhoods.
The Senate vote to send the legislation to the president, 80-14, came last night, less than two hours after the House gave its approval on a margin of 280-142. In both cases, Republicans supplied the bulk of the support, an oddity in an era of Democratic control.
Democrats in both houses coupled their concession with pledges to challenge Bush’s policies anew – and force Republicans to choose over and over between the president and public sentiment on the unpopular war. “This debate will go on,” vowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a Democrat, was even more emphatic. “Senate Democrats will not stop our efforts to change the course of this war until either enough Republicans join with us to reject President Bush’s failed policy or we get a new president,” he said.
But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell cautioned against more of the same. “I want to make it clear … that if all funding bills are going to be this partisan and contentious, it will be a very long year,” he said.
From the White House to the Capitol, the day’s events closed one chapter in an epic struggle pitting Congress against the president over a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,400 US troops.
House Republican leader John Boehner choked back tears as he stirred memories of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. “After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to take them on? When are we going to defeat them,” he asked.
The legislation includes nearly US $95bn (€70.7bn) to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September 30.
In addition to jettisoning their plan for a troop withdrawal timeline, Democrats abandoned attempts to require the Pentagon to adhere to troop training, readiness and rest requirements unless Bush waived them.
The bill establishes a series of goals for the Iraqi government to meet as it strives to build a democratic country able to defend its own borders.
Continued US reconstruction aid would be conditioned on progress toward the so-called benchmarks, although Bush retains the authority to order that the funds be spent regardless of how the Baghdad government performs.