House to Take Up Resolution on Iraq
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The House will begin debate today on a simple, tightly worded resolution opposing the deployment of additional combat troops to Iraq, even as Democratic leaders move forward on binding language that would curtail those deployments and begin to bring troops home.
The Democratic resolution, just 10 lines in length, will frame three days of debate on the war, culminating in an expected vote Friday to put the House on record against President Bush's decision to deploy more than 20,000 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq. In two short paragraphs, the resolution affirms Congress's support for "the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq" before breaking with the president's new strategy.
"We will vote on a straightforward proposition: Do you support the president's plan or oppose it?" said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "That vote will herald whether the House understands the message the American people are sending about the policies used to implement this war: They have not worked, they will not work, and they must be changed."
Waiting in the wings is binding legislation that would fully fund Bush's $100 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but add four conditions: Soldiers and Marines could be deployed to Iraq only after being certified as fully trained and equipped. National Guardsmen and reservists could be subject to no more than two deployments, or roughly 12 months of combat duty. The administration could use none of the money for permanent bases in Iraq. And additional funding for the National Guard and reserves must be spent to retool operations at home, such as emergency response.
"It's only the bark," Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said of this week's resolution. "The real bite comes with the spending bill."
After the Senate found itself tied in parliamentary knots last week over a far more complicated resolution, House leaders opted for the simplest statement possible, hoping to unite Democrats and drive a wedge between congressional Republicans and a White House that has commanded their strict allegiance for more than six years.
Republican leaders have denigrated the nonbinding resolution as pointless while saying it demoralizes the troops and emboldens the enemy. But they privately concede that dozens of Republicans are likely to join the Democrats by the end of the week.
"When we've had in excess of 3,100 troops give the ultimate sacrifice, when we've had more than 20,000 troops injured, many of them permanently, when we've been at this for nearly four years, that's not cutting and running," said Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), a reliable conservative who said he will vote for the resolution. "That's a sacred step toward freedom, and I think it's time to hand the baton to the Iraqis."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) typified a conflicted Republican when he weighed the pros and cons of the resolution: "In voting against the president on this, to some extent you demean him in the eyes of those who are fighting over there. But you're also sending a message to the Iraqis that they better get their act together." Davis added that it was "not inconceivable" that he would vote for the measure. "A lot of us have our concerns about this deployment," he said.
Even before the debate begins, both parties were anxiously eyeing the next step, when Democrats will move toward binding legislation that would augment legislation funding the war.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) insisted that Democrats will use Congress's power of the purse to choke off the war effort and endanger the troops.
"This resolution is the first step in the Democrats' plan to cut off funding for American troops who are in harm's way, and their leaders have made this abundantly clear," he said yesterday.
Democrats have struggled to patch over their own divisions, especially among liberal antiwar activists who have scoffed at a nonbinding resolution. At a closed-door meeting of House Democrats last week, Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, offered assurances that strong action would quickly follow this week's vote.
Murtha's plan, backed by Pelosi, is to deprive Republicans of the argument that Democrats are choking off funds, while taking binding action against the war couched as protecting the troops, said a senior Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy.
No matter how it is couched, Republicans say, the Democrats are pulling the rug out from under the military.
"They're tying the hands of commander in chief and commander on the ground," said Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who has been assigned by GOP leaders to take the pulse of fellow Republicans on Iraq.
Republicans had expected to press that point on the House floor this week with an alternative resolution stating Congress's opposition to a cutoff of war funding. But after saying last week that Republicans would get a vote on their own measure, Democratic leaders reversed course yesterday, saying they did not want to muddy a debate over additional troops with a showdown on war spending.
"Sometimes you just have to play hardball," Moran said.
The House resolution contrasts sharply with the resolution drafted by Sens. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). That measure included 22 preface statements before opposing the additional troop deployments, calling for existing troops to be redeployed away from sectarian hotbeds and pushing for a new regional diplomatic effort to end the war. It weighed in at 1,597 words. The House resolution, including the title and introduction, has 97.