End the war. Fund the troops. You can sum up the argument between George W. Bush and the Democratic majorities in Congress in just six words. Both the House and the Senate have now passed supplemental appropriations that in different ways call for a beginning of an end to our military involvement in Iraq.
George W. Bush threatens to veto them and any supplemental that places limits on military operations. It's clear that the Democrats don't have the votes to override a veto, or anything close. The Senate version, passed 51 to 47, sets a goal of withdrawing most of the troops from Iraq by next March. The House version, passed 218 to 212, sets a date by which all troops must be gone: September 2008.
The House and Senate must reconcile the two versions, and then the leadership must get the common version through both houses. That may not be easy. Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska says he's reluctant to vote for a version with a timetable. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly conceded that the conference committee will "take the Senate language on goals."
But that will be a hard sell in the House. The 71-member Progressive Caucus, headed by Lynne Woolsey and Barbara Lee (who cast the sole vote against military action in Afghanistan), in February called for withdrawal in six months. Pelosi and the majority leader twisted arms and ladled out enough pork to get most of its members in line in March on a bill with a deadline. Now, they'll have to work to get them to vote for a bill without one.
The alternative is to get Republican votes. But only two of them were for the March bill, and few are likely to support anything but a "clean bill," with no deadlines, goals or benchmarks.
Such a measure would enrage many Democrats. CodePink and other antiwar organizations have already been staging demonstrations. They'd get really angry if a Democratic House passes a "clean bill."
The Democrats will face the same problem when George W. Bush vetoes their bill. They would like to end the war, but they dare not end funding to the troops. They can hope that the sympathetic mainstream media will put the blame on Bush. But they can't help remembering that the last time an opposition Congress refused to meet a president's demand to fund the government it was the speaker -- Newt Gingrich - not President Bill Clinton who plummeted in the polls.
Conceding this point earlier this month was Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, as well as one of the most visible Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama. Levin has called for a bill setting political goals for the Iraqi government.