The House of Representatives today began debating a brief nonbinding resolution against President Bush's plan to send more forces to Iraq, a two-paragraph declaration that Democratic supporters said would open the way to bringing U.S. troops home and that Republican opponents charged would undermine their mission and admit defeat.
The House Democratic leadership promised three full days of debate on the resolution before putting it to a vote on Friday. Each of the House's 435 members and five delegates is being given up to five minutes to speak, the most extensive debate on the war since it was launched nearly four years ago.
"The American people have lost faith in President Bush's course of action in Iraq," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a floor speech as debate on the resolution got underway. Bush's plan "is based on the judgment that the way out of Iraq lies in sending more troops in," she said, adding, "Our experience has proven just the opposite."
Despite four previous troop increases, the levels of violence in Iraq have only escalated, she said, "and there is no end in sight."
Pelosi said of the sparely worded resolution, "In a few days and in fewer than 100 words, we will take our country in a new direction on Iraq. A vote of disapproval will set the stage for additional Iraq legislation which will be coming to the House floor. Friday's vote will signal whether the House has heard the American people: No more blank checks for President Bush on Iraq."
Democrats are preparing binding legislation that would fully fund the administration's $100 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while adding conditions. Among them are stipulations that U.S. troops could be deployed to Iraq only after being certified as fully trained and equipped, no money could be used for permanent bases in Iraq, and National Guard and Reserve troops could be sent on no more than two deployments.
Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, charged that the resolution marks "a first step to abandon Iraq and cut off funding for our troops in harm's way." He said he could not guarantee that Bush's troop-surge plan will work. "But I can guarantee . . . if we cut off funding for our troops in the field and we abandon Iraq . . . the consequences of our failure will be catastrophic." He said the resolution would only "embolden" al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic militants, as well as "North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and other enemies of freedom around the world."
Boehner added, "If we abandon Iraq, those who seek weapons of mass destruction will know they have nothing to fear from a fearful America."
The concurrent resolution says Congress and the American people "will continue to support and protect" U.S. military personnel serving or having served in Iraq. But it adds, "Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."
Bush's plan calls for sending 17,500 Army soldiers to reinforce a joint U.S.-Iraqi security plan for Baghdad, where sectarian violence between majority Shiite Muslims and minority Sunni Muslim has spiraled out of control. In addition, about 4,000 Marines are being sent to the volatile western Iraqi province of Anbar, where U.S. forces are battling insurgents who include foreign fighters loyal to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
In floor speeches this morning, House Republicans complained that the Democrats were pushing the resolution through under a rule that bars any amendments or substitute language.
In a procedural vote, the House approved the rule 232 to 192, largely along party lines.
Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) charged that the rule "silences any meaningful debate" on the House floor and makes the extensive time allotted to speakers "little more than a joke." Without the opportunity to offer substitutes, the debate "amounts to nothing more than 36 hours of talk," he said.
The House also rejected 227-197 a GOP attempt to force a vote on a proposal to prohibit Congress from cutting off funding for U.S. troops deployed in combat zones. The proposal was introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), who spent seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"The Democrat resolution to deny success in Iraq is the first step for them to cut funding for our troops in harm's way," Johnson said. He characterized the resolution as demoralizing for troops in the field and their families back home.
Democrats rejected the Republican arguments, denying that they intend to cut funding for deployed troops. They described the resolution as a key move toward changing course in Iraq and ultimately ending the war.
"There will be no defunding of troops in the field," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader, told a news conference. "There will be no defunding which will cause any risk to the troops."
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, said changing course in Iraq would "not demoralize our troops or abandon them" but is "the only way to support our troops." She asked, "If our strategy is not working, then why would we help our enemy by resolutely adhering to the failing plan?"
Dreier denounced the resolution as "meaningless as legislation and disastrous as policy." He charged, "It is an admission of defeat, and it is a vote of no-confidence in our troops . . . because it does not provide our troops what they need" in the way of reinforcements.
Accusing Democrats of offering only "a knee-jerk reaction against anything that the president says," he described the resolution as contradictory and said it expresses "platitudes" in support of U.S. troops while placing "no faith in their mission."
Dreier told lawmakers, "You cannot claim to support our troops without supporting our mission. . . . We have a duty to pursue nothing less than victory."
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), a freshman congressman who served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division, said he saw Bush's "failed policy" first hand. "The president's plan to send more of our best and bravest to die refereeing a civil war in Iraq is wrong," he said. "In order to succeed, we must make it clear to the Iraqis that we are not going to be there forever."