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House pushes new pullout plan

The Democrats' latest measure sets a deadline to begin a withdrawal but not to complete it.

July 26, 2007|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Plotting yet another challenge to President Bush's Iraq war strategy, House Democratic leaders are preparing to vote on a new withdrawal plan next week.

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said Wednesday that he planned to introduce a measure that would compel the president to begin pulling out troops within 60 days of enactment.

But in a bid to gain more Republican support and increase pressure on Bush, Murtha said, the latest Democratic plan would not set a deadline for completing the withdrawal.

"I think the mood is changing at the White House," Murtha said, predicting that Bush, despite recent tough talk about staying in Iraq, would begin redeploying troops this fall.

Murtha, a Vietnam War veteran and longtime hawk, is widely credited with emboldening his party to push for an end to the war by calling for a withdrawal in fall 2005.

Congressional Democrats have been working for months to ratchet up pressure on their Republican colleagues by forcing them to vote on measures that would require the president to begin bringing troops home.

Despite the growing number of GOP lawmakers who have publicly criticized the White House over the war, only a handful have crossed the aisle to back withdrawal legislation.

Last week, Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking the latest proposal by denying Democrats the 60-vote supermajority needed to cut off debate.

In the House, where the rules do not give the minority party as much power to stop legislation, Democrats have had less trouble pushing through withdrawal plans, though none has become law. Two weeks ago, the House passed a measure requiring a withdrawal of most U.S. troops by April; just four Republicans voted with Democrats.

Murtha made clear Wednesday that he would like all U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. But he said that a redeployment would take as long as a year and that he was willing to allow the administration to set the timetable.

The veteran lawmaker said he also planned to introduce a proposal next week that would set troop readiness standards requiring better training and equipment for units deploying overseas, and another proposal to close the prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Congress and the administration are still wrestling over what to do with the approximately 375 detainees held there.

Murtha's proposals might be attached to a $420-billion defense spending bill scheduled to be voted on next week.

Democrats plan to bring up separate legislation to pay for the war this fall. Murtha said he would reintroduce the two proposals in the fall, if necessary.

In other business Wednesday, the House voted 399 to 24 for a largely symbolic measure by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) to ban permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq; 172 Republicans joined 227 Democrats in voting for the legislation.

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noam.levey@latimes.com

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