Dems to challenge Pentagon funding
WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled House issued a symbolic rejection of President Bush’s decision to deploy more troops to Iraq on Friday, opening an epic confrontation between Congress and commander in chief over an unpopular war that has taken the lives of more than 3,100 U.S. troops.
The vote on the nonbinding measure was 246-182, and within minutes, Democrats said their next move would be to challenge Bush’s request for $93 billion in new funds for the Pentagon.
“The stakes in Iraq are too high to recycle proposals that have little prospect for success,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of Democrats who gained power last fall in elections framed by public opposition to the war.
“The passage of this legislation will signal a change in direction in Iraq that will end the fighting and bring our troops home,” she vowed after the vote, in which 17 Republicans joined 229 Democrats in a wartime rebuke to the president.
Citing recent comments by Democrats, Bush’s Republican allies said repeatedly the measure would lead to attempts to cut off funds for the troops. Outnumbered, they turned to GOP Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas to close their case ” and the former Vietnam prisoner of war stepped to the microphone as lawmakers in both parties rose to applaud his heroism.
“Now it’s time to stand up for my friends who did not make it home, and for those who fought and died in Iraq already,” he said. “We must not cut funding for our troops. We must stick by them,” he added, snapping off a salute as he completed his remarks to yet another ovation.
Moving quickly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., set a test vote for Saturday on an identical measure, and several presidential contenders in both parties rearranged their weekend campaign schedules to be present.
Republican senators said in advance they would deny Democrats the 60 votes needed to advance the resolution, adding they would insist on equal treatment for a GOP-drafted alternative that opposes any reduction in funds for the troops.
Even so there were signs of Republican restlessness on the issue. Only two members of the GOP rank and file sided with Democrats on an earlier procedural vote; the total figured to be higher this time.
The House vote completed a turnabout from the fall of 2002, when the House bowed, 296-133, to Bush’s request to authorize military action against Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.
U.S.-led troops made quick work of his regime but soon found themselves targeted in a country where long-suppressed sectarian rivalries flared and outside forces rushed to intervene. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in the ensuing war, along with more than 3,100 U.S. troops.
Bush made no comment on the developments in the House, and his spokesman said the president was too busy to watch the proceedings on television.
After a secure videoconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush said the Iraqis reported providing troops to fight alongside Americans, making sure that no ethnic or religious factions are ignored in the security operations, providing $10 billion toward reconstruction and working on an oil revenue-sharing law.
“That’s good news for the Iraqi people. And it should give people here in the United States confidence that his government knows its responsibilities and is following through on those responsibilities,” Bush said.
More than 390 of 434 lawmakers spoke during nearly 45 hours of dignified debate that spilled across four days ” an unusual amount of time devoted to what Republicans and Democrats alike said was the most significant issue confronting the country.
House Republican Leader John Boehner appeared to choke back tears at one point as he read from a letter that a husband of a former congressional aide wrote home before being killed in Fallujah.
Pelosi led the House in a moment of silence, out of respect, she said, for those who fought, and “particularly those who have lost their lives in the war, and their families.”
Supporters of the nonbinding resolution included 229 Democrats and 17 Republicans ” fewer GOP defections than Democrats had hoped to get and the White House and its allies had feared. Two Democrats joined 180 Republicans in opposition.
The developments unfolded as a new poll showed more than half those surveyed view the war as a hopeless cause.
A sizable majority, 63 percent, opposes the decision to dispatch more troops, although support for Bush’s plan has risen in the past few weeks from 26 percent to 35 percent, according to the AP-Ipsos poll.
The House measure disapproves of Bush’s decision to increase troop strength, and pledges that Congress will “support and protect” the troops.
Bush has already said passage of the measure will not deter him from proceeding with the deployment of another 21,500 troops, designed primarily to quell sectarian violence in heavily populated Baghdad.
Already, troops of the Army’s 82nd Airborne have arrived in Iraq. Another brigade is in Kuwait, undergoing final training before proceeding to Iraq. Three more brigades are ticketed for the Baghdad area, one each in March, April and May.
In addition, the Pentagon is sending two Marine battalions to Anbar Province in the western part of the country, the heart of the Sunni insurgency.
Bush and his allies in Congress calculated days ago that the House measure would pass, and increasingly have focused their energy on the next steps in the Democrats’ attempt to end U.S. participation in the war.
“The President believes that the Congress should provide the full funding and flexibility our Armed Forces need to succeed in their mission to protect our country,” said White House press secretary Tony Snow.
But Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., who chairs the committee that will review Bush’s request, said, “the president wants a supplemental (spending bill). If he wants it, he’s going to have to accept certain things.”
Democrats have made clear in recent days they will use Bush’s spending request to impose certain standards of readiness, training and rest for the troops.
“That stops the surge (in troops) for all intents and purposes, because … they cannot sustain the deployment,” Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said recently.
Republicans pointed to Murtha’s remarks repeatedly during the day as evidence that despite their claims to the contrary, Democrats intend to cut off funds for the troops.
“This is all part of their plan to eliminate funding for our troops that are in harm’s way. And we stand here as Republicans … committed to making sure our troops in harm’s way have all the funds and equipment they need to win this war in Iraq,” said Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader.