WASHINGTON – Liberal opposition to a $124 billion war spending bill broke Thursday night, when leaders of the antiwar Out of Iraq Caucus pledged to Democratic leaders that they will not block the measure, which sets timelines for bringing U.S. troops home.
The acquiescence of the liberals probably means that the House will pass a binding measure today that, for the first time, would establish tough readiness standards for the deployment of combat forces and an Aug. 31, 2008, deadline for their removal from Iraq.
A Senate committee also passed Thursday a spending bill setting a goal of bringing troops home within a year. The developments mark congressional Democrats’ first real progress in putting legislative pressure on President Bush to withdraw U.S. forces.
Even more than the conservative Democrats leery of appearing to micro-manage the war, House liberals have been the main obstacle to leadership efforts to put a timeline on the withdrawal of U.S. forces. They have complained that the proposal would not bring troops home fast enough. Their opposition has torn apart the antiwar movement, split the Democratic base and been the main stumbling block to the legislation, which had originally been scheduled for a vote Thursday.
As debate began on the bill Thursday, members of the antiwar caucus and party leaders held a backroom meeting in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made a final plea to the group, asking it to deliver at least four votes when the roll is called. The members promised 10.
“I find myself in the excruciating position of being asked to choose between voting for funding for the war or establishing timelines to end it,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “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.”
That was the message of Democratic leaders: This was the best deal they could make, and it was better than no deal at all.
At a meeting of Democratic vote counters Thursday, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois quoted Yogi Berra’s line, “When you reach a fork in the road, take it.”
“We’re at the fork in the road,” Emanuel said.