The House of Representatives began dramatic debate Tuesday on a resolution criticizing President Bush’s plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops to fight in the four-year-old war in Iraq.
House Democrats on Monday unveiled the simple, two-sentence resolution that says “Congress disapproves” of Bush’s decision to send additional forces to Iraq, which has been wracked by increased sectarian and insurgent attacks.
Taking his turn on the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia, complained that the three-day debate was held without offering any GOP “input or alternatives” and accused Democrats of playing politics with “possibly our last, best chance to secure freedom for the Iraqi people.”
“The manner in which this debate will be carried out is an affront to the American people and to our troops, and I ask my colleagues to join me in opposition to this shameful rule.”
During her floor remarks, Democratic Florida Rep. Kathy Castor, said, “Bush’s war in Iraq is swallowing the defense budget and our country’s ability to prepare for any other threat to our national security.”
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney’s “intention to send more American men and women into what is largely a sectarian civil war is more of the same stay-the-course mentality,” Castor said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is slated to begin addressing the House around noon ET Tuesday. (Watch how GOP opponents are planning to fight the resolution Video)
Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, released excerpts of their remarks.
“The president’s plan is based on a judgment that the way out of Iraq lies in sending more troops in,” said Pelosi in her remarks. “History has proven just the opposite. Four previous troop escalations have resulted primarily in escalating levels of violence.”
In his remarks, Boehner said, “The question before us today isn’t actually in this resolution. It is more fundamental. The question is: Do we have the resolve that will be necessary to defeat our terrorist enemies? Will we stand and fight for the future of our kids and theirs?”
As the war has become increasingly unpopular and the 2008 presidential race approaches, members of Bush’s party in both the House and Senate have signed on to the idea of a nonbinding resolution criticizing the president’s war plan.
A new USA Today/Gallup Poll finds “majority support for congressional action on Iraq: 51 percent back a nonbinding resolution, 57 percent a cap on troop levels and 63 percent a timetable to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2008. However, 58 percent oppose denying funding for the additional troops.”
In the Senate, seven Republicans opposed to Bush’s plan tried and failed Monday to attach language from an anti-increase resolution to a massive spending bill to get around a procedural dispute that has held up consideration of the resolution itself. (Watch how the Senate is deadlocked over a resolution opposing the buildup Video)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, refused to clear away several parliamentary hurdles preventing the senators from inserting the language because of concerns that addressing that issue might delay the bill, said Jim Manley, a Reid aide.
The spending bill has to be approved by Thursday to avoid a government shutdown, which the majority Democrats are hoping to avoid on their watch.
Reid has said he will attempt to revive the Iraq debate in the Senate later this month when lawmakers return from a recess.
In the House, Boehner challenged Democratic leaders to permit a vote on a Republican alternative that would preclude lawmakers from trying to stop the deployment by cutting off funding.
A challenge from the Republicans
The nonbinding House resolution, which is expected to come to a vote Friday, begins with the statement that “Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving, or who have served, bravely and honorably in Iraq.”
It goes on to say that “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.” (Read the text of the resolution — PDF)
Unlike several resolutions percolating in the Senate, the House Democrats’ version does not address the thorny issue of whether lawmakers should use their power of the purse to stop Bush’s plan, nor does it set out specific benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet.
In outlining their proposal for reporters last week, Democratic leaders said that while they would not allow amendments during the debate, they would let Republicans offer one alternative. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said that allowing a vote on a GOP alternative was “not necessarily our plan, at this point in time.”
“We saw the problems that the Senate was confronted with, where the ‘whereas’ clauses and the ‘therefore’ clauses confused the issue,” Hoyer said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We believe the American public want a straightforward answer to the question, ‘Do you agree with the president’s proposal?’ “
Seizing on the Democrats’ unwillingness to let lawmakers consider the GOP alternative, Boehner said their resolution was “the first step in the Democrats’ plan to cut off funding for American troops who are in harm’s way.”
“If Democrats are serious about supporting our troops, they will allow Republicans to offer a substantive alternative that binds the Congress to an unwavering and unambiguous commitment to fund the American men and women who wear our uniform,” Boehner said in a statement.
Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate have said they do not support cutting off funding for the troops.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Monday that in considering the resolution, lawmakers “need to understand that their words do travel and assess what impact they think they may have.”
“These are serious matters that people voting on the resolution are going to have to take into account,” Snow said.
The Bush administration has made it clear it plans to proceed with the Iraq deployment no matter what Congress does.
But opponents are hoping a bipartisan display of disapproval will put pressure on the president to reconsider.