WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday voted to impose a September 1, 2008, deadline for withdrawing all American combat troops from Iraq, prompting a quick veto promise from President George W. Bush.
In a mostly partisan 218-212 vote, House Democrats succeeded in attaching the deadline to legislation spending more than $124 billion in emergency funds, most of it for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year.
“The American people do not support a war without end and neither should this Congress,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, calling the Iraq war “a grotesque mistake.”
The narrow margin of the vote was far short of what Democrats would need to override any presidential veto.
Debate now shifts to the Senate, which could vote as early next week on its version of the war-spending bill.
Senate Democrats have crafted slightly different timetables for removing troops from Iraq. Under their plan, which Republican leaders oppose, the Pentagon would begin withdrawing troops no later than four months after enactment of the legislation. The measure sets a “goal,” not a requirement, of finishing a withdrawal by March 31, 2008.
Some centrist senators, who could cast the pivotal votes, were still mulling their positions.
The House vote was a significant victory for Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, who took control of Congress in November on a pledge to end the unpopular war in Iraq.
Two years ago, most lawmakers shied away from speaking out against the war and Friday’s vote underscored the change.
“One of the things that accounted for this result,” said Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, “is that public opinion has continued to move. ... People are very anti-war.”
Despite polls showing broad dissatisfaction with the war, Bush has increased U.S. troop strength to quell violence in Baghdad. While that appears to have slowed attacks, violence spiked on Friday when a suicide bomber blew himself up, wounding Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zobaie.
Bush, who as commander-in-chief does not want Democratic lawmakers meddling in the war, condemned the House vote.
“They set rigid restrictions that would require an army of lawyers to interpret. They set an arbitrary date for withdrawal with no regard for conditions on the ground. And they tacked on billions in pet projects that have nothing to do with winning the war on terror,” Bush said.
But House Democrats, geared up for battle with Bush in the final two years of his presidency, disagreed.
Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who says the war has sapped military readiness, said, “We’re going to make a difference ... We’re going to bring those troops home.”
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said a vote for the bill would mean “that we’re going to end the permanent, long-term, dead-end baby-sitting service. That’s what we are trying to do.”
All but two House Republicans voted against the bill, which they say will tie the military’s hands and invite failure.
During debate, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio warned, “We have no choice but to win. If we fail in Iraq, you’ll see the rise even further and faster of radical terrorism all around the world.”
While the House legislation would provide emergency funding for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of this year, it lays out timetables for withdrawing combat troops in Iraq, linked to that government’s progress in securing its country and other benchmarks.
The House vote marked the first time either chamber of Congress moved to impose a mandatory deadline for ending the U.S. combat role in the war Bush launched in early 2003.
Overall, the bill provides more than $124 billion, including domestic funds for farmers, veterans’ health care and reconstruction in Gulf Coast states hit by hurricanes.
If Congress provides the $100 billion in new money for combat, which it is expected to do in one form or another, the tab for the Iraq and Afghan wars would hit about $600 billion.
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Kevin Drawbaugh