Some Democrats push for tougher action on Iraq

Wednesday, February 7th 2007, 6:06 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tired of waiting for an opportunity to try to stop the war in Iraq, some Democrats say they want to use legislation approving billions of dollars in war spending to insist that President Bush not send more troops.

Others want to use the spending measure to bring the troops home by a certain date.

``The longer we delay taking action, the greater the failure in Iraq and the larger the cost in American blood and treasure,'' said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who supports legislation that would cap the number of troops allowed in Iraq.

Sen. Barack Obama said he would push his legislation ordering troops out of Iraq by March 2008.

``This is not a symbolic vote,'' Obama, D-Ill., said of his proposal, which is backed by two House Democrats. ``This is what I think has the best chance of bringing our troops home.''

Sen. John Kerry, who drafted a similar proposal, said Congress' actions will be watched carefully by voters headed to the polls in 2008.

``If the Congress is going to procrastinate, if they refuse to debate the most important issue of our time ... then that is going to be clear issue in the context of '08,'' said Kerry, D-Mass.

Demands for a tough vote on Iraq come as the House plans a vote next week on a nonbinding measure opposing Bush's Iraq troop buildup. A debate on an Iraq resolution stalled this week in the Senate.

The precise nature of the nonbinding House measure remains to be determined, officials said Tuesday, although Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it would focus on opposing the buildup.

The Pentagon is in the midst of implementing Bush's order to raise troop levels by 21,500, part of a plan to help quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Senate panel Tuesday that U.S. forces might be able to start leaving Iraq before the end of the year, if daunting conditions including subdued violence and political reconciliation are met.

Gates told lawmakers the current buildup of forces is ``not the last chance'' to succeed in Iraq and conceded that he's considering what steps to take if it doesn't work.

``I would be irresponsible if I weren't thinking about what the alternatives might be,'' Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was expected to testify Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate have pledged to their rank-and-file that a vote on a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop buildup would merely be the first attempt to pressure Bush to shift course in the war. Other legislation will be binding, they said.

Under House rules, Democratic leaders have the authority to advance a measure to the floor for three days of debate and a vote.

That stands in contrast to the Senate, where Republicans have so far blocked an attempt by Democrats to hold a full-fledged debate on a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,100 U.S. troops.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters he hoped the measure in the House would attract Republican support.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, his party's House leader, said in an interview that he hoped the GOP would be permitted to seek a vote on an alternative. If so, he said it would call for a bipartisan committee to oversee the war effort, and lay out a series of benchmarks by which people could judge whether the Iraqi government was living up to its commitments to help quell the violence.

``If you're not for victory in Iraq, you're for failure,'' Boehner said. ``The consequences of failure are immense. I think it destabilizes the entire Middle East, encourages Iran and on top of that it's pretty clear that the terrorists will just follow us home.''