After weeks of bitter wrangling, the House voted Friday for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to attach benchmarks and an exit timeline to funding for the continuation of the Iraq War.
The vote was 218-212, with anti-war progressives who had initially objected to the Pelosi plan because it continued to fund the war, helping to provide the margin of victory.
216 Democrats voted for the spending bill, as did two Republicans — Maryland’s Wayne Gilchrest and North Carolina’s Walter Jones, both veteran war critics. Among the Democrats who voted for the measure were many who, in the past, had opposed supplemental funding requests from the Bush White House, including Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, Michigan’s John Conyers, Washington’s Jim McDermott and Massachusetts’ Jim McGovern.
198 Republicans voted against the bill, as did 14 Democrats. Some of the Democrats who opposed the bill were southern conservatives who essentially support President Bush’s handling of the war. But eight of the “no” votes came from anti-war Democrats, who object to any additional funding of the war joined them — including Georgia’s John Lewis, Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich, California’s Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey.
Several anti-war Republicans, including Texan Ron Paul and Tennessee’s John Duncan, also voted “no.”
One anti-war Democrat, California’s Pete Stark, vote “present.”
On Thursday night, Lee, Waters, Watson and Woolsey had released a statement that said, “After two grueling weeks of meetings, progressive members of Congress brought forth an agreement that provided the momentum to pass a supplemental spending bill that, for the first time, establishes a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.”
As such, Waters, a founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said to anti-war members: “We have released people who were beginning…to be pulled in a different direction. We don’t want them to be put in a position where they look like they are undermining Nancy’s speakership.”
Lee said, “I have struggled with this decision, but I finally decided that, while I cannot betray my conscience, I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war.”
By suggesting that anti-war members could give their votes to Pelosi, the four California progressives provided significant aid to the speaker’s effort to pass the spending bill. Pelosi needed roughly 218 votes to prevail, and she could not have gotten near that number without the support of anti-war Democrats who had voted against previous supplemental spending measures.
When it became clear that their specific support would not be needed to get to the 218 figure, however, Lee Waters, Watson and Woolsey cast votes of conscience against further funding of the war. How would they have voted if Pelosi’s bill had faced defeat without them? That’s a question that will continue to be asked. Lee almost certainly would have cast a “no” vote, as she did when the bill was considered by the Appropriations Committee. The others might well have voted “no,” as well. But they did not have to face the stark question of whether they wanted to cast the votes that killed a measure that, while too soft for their tastes, still expressed a measure of anti-war sentiment.
The dispute over the bill opened serious divisions within the anti-war movement. some of which will be slow to heal. While Lee, Waters, Watson and Woolsey — who had been some of the most vocal critics of the bill — ultimately cast “no” votes, other anti-war members such as Vermont’s Peter Welch voted “yes.” As the representative of a state that has espressed strong opposition to continued funding of the war, Welch and others like him are likely to feel heat at home.
But, just as many in the anti-war community have complaints about the Pelosi package, the Bush White House is also unhappy.
Even though Pelosi’s bill provides the White House with the money the president requested, Bush has promised a veto of any measure with benchmarks or a timeline.
The Senate has begun consideration of a spending bill with a tougher timeline. If it passes such a measure, the House and Senate bills will have to be reconciled before going to the president’s desk.
Translation: This fight is a long way from over.
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