By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2007
House Democrats agreed yesterday to debate a straightforward, nonbinding resolution that rejects President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, but they will also allow Republicans to bring their own war-related measure to the floor.
The House debate is set to begin Tuesday and will continue for at least three days, with all lawmakers offered five-minute speaking slots. Unlike the more complicated Senate version, which has run into a Republican-erected procedural roadblock, the House Democratic resolution will make two basic points.
"It will express our strong support of our troops -- not only those who are at the point of the spear and at risk in Afghanistan and in Iraq, but our strong support of the troops who are here, ready to be deployed, to be trained, to be equipped properly," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
"It will also then express our disagreement with the president's proposal to increase the numbers of troops," Hoyer said.
Democrats will allow Republicans to offer alternative language, and House GOP leaders said they are considering two possible approaches. One is a resolution declaring that Congress will not cut off funding for U.S. troops. The other would establish a bipartisan panel to monitor Bush's new strategy in Iraq, including the troop increase. It would also offer benchmarks for Iraqis to meet, to show they are fulfilling their commitments to assuming greater responsibility for the war.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans will make a final decision after the Democratic resolution is officially unveiled, which may not happen until Monday. "I want to see what the Democrats are going to put on the floor," he told Republicans yesterday.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a sharp critic of the war and chairman of a subcommittee that oversees defense funding, is separately preparing language to block money for the additional troops in Iraq unless the military meets certain readiness standards. He said he will introduce his proposal on March 15 as an attachment to Bush's request for Iraq war funding.
"The hope is we will affect the surge," Murtha said of Bush's plan to deploy more troops in Iraq. He stressed that increasing troops in Iraq means diverting resources from Afghanistan. "Afghanistan is a forgotten war," he said. "It started there, and it should have stayed there."
In the Senate, the resolution debate remained stalled, despite a bid by some Republican senators to revive it before a week-long recess that begins Feb. 17. Democrats and some Republicans had rallied behind a nonbinding resolution authored by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) that would expresses disapproval of Bush's troop plan. But all but two Republicans voted to block the resolution from advancing, to protest what GOP leaders considered to be unfair procedural terms.
Seven Republicans, including Warner and other GOP co-sponsors, released a letter Wednesday night announcing they would "explore all of our options" under Senate rules to reignite the debate.
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Minority Whip Trent Lott (Miss.) wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday affirming their desire to begin debating the resolution, but they reiterated their demand for consideration of a GOP alternative that opposes withholding funds for the troop increase.
Although that resolution would also be nonbinding, many Democrats don't want to touch the funding issue, regardless of their position on the war.
Senate Democrats scoffed at Warner's letter vowing to force the Senate to consider his resolution. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) called it "a giant mea culpa." Reid said: "We know Republicans have their misgivings about what they did." Referring to the House, he added, "They're going to send us something late next week, and we'll be back on Iraq before you know it."
Staff writer Lyndsey Layton contributed to this report.