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On Iraq rebuke, House aims for concise, direct approach

Democrats will forgo the complex language that tied up Senate debate on a resolution opposing Bush's plan.

February 09, 2007|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives next week will confront President Bush with a short, straightforward resolution expressing opposition to his plan to boost troop levels in Iraq.

Forgoing the complex language that tied up the Senate's debate of the war this week, House Democrats said Thursday that they would offer a concise measure that expresses support for the troops and opposition to the Bush strategy.

But Democratic leaders billed the nonbinding measure as the beginning of a more expansive campaign to force an end to the nearly 4-year-old war.

"This is the first step, a first step of many steps available to the Congress as we proceed," said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), echoing words used by the most staunchly anti-war members of the House.

Democratic lawmakers -- including Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, who heads the defense appropriations subcommittee -- have talked of restricting funding for the war.

Reps. Lynn C. Woolsey (D-Petaluma), Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) are pushing legislation to begin a phased withdrawal over the next six months.

And Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a retired three-star admiral who knocked off a Republican incumbent in November, introduced legislation Thursday that would set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year.

There are now more than 30 pieces of legislation in the House dealing with the war, according to Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame), who plans a hearing on them in his foreign affairs committee next month.

Congressional Democrats have promised a vigorous challenge to Bush's leadership of the war since they captured majorities in the House and Senate in November.

But plans for a Senate resolution opposing the addition of 21,500 troops, in part to contain sectarian violence in Baghdad, foundered this week amid fierce partisan squabbling in the upper chamber.

And Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ceded leadership of the campaign against the Bush plan to the House, where Democrats hold a more commanding majority.

On Thursday, the Senate turned to Bush's nomination of Gen. George W. Casey Jr. to be Army chief of staff. The former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq was confirmed 83 to 14.

House Democratic leaders had considered debating the same resolution that stalled in the Senate. That measure -- sponsored by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and backed by other Republican and Democratic lawmakers -- expounded at length on presidential powers and critiques of the war before urging the president to explore alternative policies.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the No. 4 leader in the House, who quarterbacked the party's 2006 election effort, said Thursday that House Democrats decided to explicitly reject such a nuanced approach.

"This is an up-or-down vote on the policy enunciated by the president," he said. "To make it anything else was to get off the debate that we are having in this country."

Emanuel said Democrats also would offer Republicans the opportunity to offer one alternative measure, but later in the day Hoyer appeared to back away from that pledge.

Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) condemned any nonbinding resolution as "nothing more than political theater that means nothing."

Republicans -- who have consistently cast the Democratic effort as defeatist -- are pushing measures that oppose any cutoff of funds for the troops and lay out a series of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to show that it is cooperating with the American effort.

Twelve years ago, 221 Republicans, including Boehner, backed a nonbinding resolution opposing President Clinton's plans to send 20,000 U.S. forces to Bosnia to enforce the peace there, according to the Congressional Record.

But Republican leaders -- whose caucus is outnumbered 233 to 202 -- acknowledge they stand little chance of stopping the Democratic resolution.

"We're going to have to face whatever they cram down our throats," Rep. Adam H. Putnam (R-Fla.) said outside the House chamber.

Democrats plan a vote Thursday after three days of debate, in which each member would be allowed to speak for up to five minutes.

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