House Democrats unveil anti-war bill

Monday, February 12th 2007, 9:55 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Democrats rolled out their resolution opposing President Bush's troop increase in Iraq on Monday, setting up a likely rebuke in a political landscape turned upside-down since Congress' overwhelming 2002 endorsement of force against Saddam Hussein.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on a resolution by week's end opposing Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. The measure states simply that the House ``will continue to support and protect'' troops serving in Iraq but ``disapproves'' of the troop buildup.

Debate was to begin Tuesday, and the House vote will mark its first on the war since Democrats won control in the November elections. While the measure is not binding and would not affect the funding of the war, passage would be an embarrassing rejection of Bush's Iraq war policy and could force many Republicans to choose between backing the president or criticizing a deeply unpopular war.

``What the American people want to know is: Does their member of Congress support the president's proposed escalation or do they not?'' said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters he had heard from about 20 Republicans who said they opposed the troop buildup, and from one Democrat reluctant to support the resolution. The measure's simple language _ it totaled just a few dozen words _ was crafted to maximize the number of Republicans who would support it and to emphasize support for the troops

While Democrats predicted the measure would pass easily, Republican leaders tried to refocus debate on the measure in hopes of putting Democrats on the defensive.

``This resolution is the first step in the Democrats' plan to cut off funding for American troops who are in harm's way, and their leaders have made this abundantly clear,'' said House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Each of the House's 435 members and five delegates will be allotted five minutes to speak on the issue _ stretching the debate until midnight most nights until Friday's vote. Democratic leaders said Monday they planned a weeklong debate that would restrict members to a single vote by week's end, barring any amendments or a GOP alternative.

This week's debate will be in sharp contrast to the one in 2002, which authorized Bush to use force if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not comply with U.N. weapons inspectors.

That debate resulted in solid margins of support from Republicans and Democrats _ a victory for a president buoyed by popular ratings following the Sept. 11 attacks and easily assuring a jittery nation that Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.

In October 2002, just over half of the public _ 52 percent _ approved of Bush's handling of Iraq in Gallup polling.

But Bush now faces a new political landscape. After 47 months of war, more than 3,100 U.S. troops have died and the justification for the invasion _ Saddam's ties to al-Qaida and development of weapons of mass destruction _ has been discredited. And last November, voters unseated enough Republicans with anti-war candidates to hand the reins to Democrats, who are united against the war if not what to do about it.

Public approval of Bush's handling of Iraq is now at 32 percent, the lowest in AP-Ipsos polling. And the latest intelligence estimate on Iraq found that Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to craft a lasting political settlement _ a key component of Bush's strategy _ in the next year and a half.

In 2002, midterm elections were a month away and control of both chambers up for grabs when Congress held its most heated debates on whether to invade Iraq. Many did not want to be on the opposite side from a popular president if war came, and the White House played on domestic political concerns to roll up big margins of support in both houses.

After quarreling among themselves on Iraq over the summer, Republicans lined up dutifully behind Bush when the final votes were tallied. With the economy stagnant, consumer confidence shaken and the stock market in the dumps, the Iraq crisis offered a common rallying theme.

House Democrats were divided on the issue. Hoyer voted in favor of authorizing the war, whereas Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has since risen to power as House speaker, voted against it. But overall, Democrats were eager to vote quickly and get back to their states and districts to campaign, hoping there was still time to change the subject back to domestic issues like prescription drugs and Social Security.

Ultimately, Bush prevailed by a 296-133 vote in the GOP-run House and a 77-23 vote in the Democratic-led Senate. Only six House Republicans and one GOP senator _ Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island _ voted against the president.

This time, midterm elections are again playing a role in the debate _ but not in Bush's favor. Last November, Chafee and other Republicans were ousted by voters angered by the war. And with every House member up for re-election in 2008, Republicans are questioning whether to stick with a lame-duck president who has lost favor with the American public.

Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, one of 215 Republicans who voted to authorize force in Iraq, is now co-sponsoring the Democratic resolution condemning the troop buildup.

As the House moved toward debate this week, Senate Republicans opposed to Bush's Iraq plan sought to revive a vote on a similar resolution that was stalled by GOP procedural moves last week.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., proposed Monday attaching his resolution to a must-pass budget bill. While Warner was considered unlikely to be successful, his proposal suggested he was not backing down.

``I, like my colleagues, intend to do everything in our power as United States senators to ensure a full and open debate of the Iraq war here on the Senate floor in front of the American people,'' said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who supports Warner's resolution.