May 03 2007
By Laura Onstot
WASHINGTON | Alabama’s legislators split along party lines in their reactions, a day after President Bush did what he had long promised and vetoed the Iraq war funding bill presented to him by a Democratic Congress.
Congress failed to override President Bush’s veto of legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq on Wednesday, a defeat for anti-war Democrats that triggered immediate talks on a new measure to fund the conflict. The House vote was 222-203, 62 shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
Sen. Jeff Sessions backed Bush’s veto of the bill, which included a timeline for troop withdrawal beginning in October.
He said Tuesday that Iraq’s government must show more progress toward establishing stability.
“I don’t see how we can continue to ask soldiers to place their lives at risk for a government that’s not functioning; it’s just that simple to me," Sessions said.
Sessions talked about the conflict after returning Monday night from a weekend trip to Iraq.
Sessions, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Reps. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and Devin Nunes, R-Calif., put on body armor and toured the country, meeting with troops, generals and Iraqi leaders.
Sessions said that he was encouraged by conversations he had with military officers. He said he saw reason to believe sectarian violence is on the decline.
The Defense Department reported Wednesday that 139 troops died in Iraq between March 19 and April 30, bringing the total number of American deaths in the conflict to 3,353.
“Even though the number of acts of violence against the average Iraqi is down, the big attacks continue to keep this country in an unsettled state," Sessions said.
Sessions’ sentiments were echoed by other members of the Alabama Republican delegation.
“Our troops have not been defeated on the battlefield, so why should we surrender?" Sen. Richard Shelby asked.
“It’s about 10 minutes to 12 on the clock, and there has to be great progress on the ground militarily and a lot of progress by the Iraqi government," Shelby said.
“If not, the administration and us have to reassess it. We have to see where we are and are we making great progress or only marginal."
Both Shelby and Sessions said it’s important to continue support for American troops, which both said still have high morale primarily because they haven’t lost militarily in Iraq.
Shelby said congressional Democratic leaders have injected “raw politics funding the troops. They’re trying to undermine the whole effort."
Shelby acknowledged mistakes in Iraq especially forecasting the insurgency, but he said troops need time to succeed and the Iraqi government needs to show rapid progress toward self-protection and governance.
“I think we can get back into negotiations and talk about a lot of benchmarks and goals and have to realistically look at the progress made by the Iraqi government," Shelby said.
“We have to reassess how well the [military] surge is doing," Shelby said. “If there’s not a lot of progress, we’ll know by Thanksgiving, somewhere in that area. I think that will persuade the Congress and the president to say where are we. The Iraqi government has to be committed and I’m not sure they are."
Alabama Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt said the legislation was an attempt to take decisionmaking power over combat operations away from the president and the military.
“The primary purpose of this bill seems to be to tie the hands of our commanders on the ground in such a way that they can’t possibly succeed," he said.
However, not every legislator agreed with that sentiment. Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, who opposed the Iraq invasion in 2003, voted Wednesday to override Bush’s veto of the bill.
In a phone interview, he accused the president of playing politics with war financing.
“It is the president who is standing in the way of troops getting funded," he said.
The veto sends both houses of Congress back to the drawing board to come up with a plan for war funding that is acceptable to the president.
University of Alabama political science professor Carol Cassel said both the House and Senate will have to vote on new bills for troop funding.
Cassel said Congress will likely use the legislation already drafted as a starting point for Democratic leaders and the president to hammer out a compromise.
“They’ll probably come up with some kind of a bill that requires benchmarks for the Iraqi government," she said.
Neither side will benefit if the money for troops is held up indefinitely.
“I think the political damage would be too great," Cassel said.
Davis said any compromise bill would need to include, at the least, goals for the Iraqi government that are linked to a reduction in U.S. forces.
Montgomery Bureau Chief Dana Beyerle contributed to this report.