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Democrats Frustrated, but Plan Continuing Legislative Push on Iraq


The focus of congressional action on Iraq shifts again from the Senate to the House of Representatives next week. While majority Democrats are releasing few specific details of their legislative strategy, VOA's Dan Robinson reports on what is known at this point as they continue efforts to force a significant change in President Bush's military policy in Iraq.

With little prospect of obtaining the vote margins they need in the Senate to pass significant legislation challenging the president's Iraq strategy, Democratic leaders in the House are planning another round of Iraq votes through the month of October.

President Bush has asked Congress to approve another $190 billion to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, sharply higher than a figure provided last February after he announced his military surge plan.

The request places House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leader in even more of an uncomfortable spot, as they face ongoing pressure from critics within their party, but a mathematical reality in the Senate where a 60 vote majority is needed to move major legislation to a vote.

Frustration was apparent when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, fielding questions at the National Press Club, was asked whether Democrats will end up giving the president what he wants.

"The U.S. is a very big ship and turning a big ship takes time, and it is particularly difficult to change the course of a big ship when the captain at the wheel does not believe we ought to change course," said Steny Hoyer. "So what Democrats will do is to continue to offer policies and to garner larger and larger majorities for the proposition that we need to change course, redeploy our troops, take them out of a civil war, and try to restore America's credibility and integrity around the world."

Hoyer adds that while he and Pelosi understand the frustration of Americans whose votes turned Republicans out of power in November of last year, largely over Iraq, unless Democrats can obtain enough Republican votes and the margins to override a presidential veto, there may be no change in Iraq policy until 2009 when a new president takes charge.

About all Democrats can do at this point was explained by Pelosi in a Friday news conference.

"So what I am saying to my appropriations committee is that I want them to scrub this request, what is the mission and where is the money going, before we take up any other legislation," said Nancy Pelosi.

What that means is that Democrats may delay consideration of war funding for several months, possibly into 2008, while pursuing a strategy of introducing multiple bills, starting with less controversial measures.

In a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this past week, Senator Robert Byrd made clear, to applause from spectators in the hearing room, how he views the president's funding request:

"This committee will not, not rubber stamp every request that is submitted by the president," said Robert Byrd. "If the Congress were to approve the president's revised budget request total funding for the war in Iraq will exceed $600 billion, $600 billion, billion dollars.

Democrats are expected to begin their latest vote barrage next week with a measure seeking to exert greater control over private contractors in Iraq, amid continuing controversy over actions by the U.S.-based Blackwater security firm.

Eventually, the House will consider a bill sponsored by Hawaii Democrat Neil Abercrombie that would require President Bush to give Congress a plan within 60 days to redeploy U.S. forces.

Hoyer stresses the need to maintain constant pressure on the president:

"We believe we need to keep putting on the floor resolutions, bills, policies which will lead to a change in policy," he said. "If we can't ultimately pass them into law because of the president's veto, we are sorry about that, because we think America wants change but we will continue our efforts."

All of this is in contrast with the situation several months ago, when some key Republican senators signaled a potential break with the president, and Democrats hoped for more support in the Senate.

But even Republican House leader John Boehner says Congress has an obligation to go through the president's request, in his words, with a fine tooth comb.

While opposing any effort to set a withdrawal timetable, Boehner says he and other Republicans would support legislation calling for an overall plan from the president for troop redeployment, but he adds, only because the military probably already has one:

"I would be shocked if the Pentagon didn't already have those plans sitting on the shelf," said John Boehner. "That is what they do over at the Pentagon, they plan for every kind of contingency known to man and so I would expect if the bill on the [House] floor looks like the bill that came out of [congressional] committee, I would expect all of us would be for it."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week that he believes President Bush did signal a change in mission in Iraq when he endorsed the recommendation of General David Petraeus to draw out as many as 30,000 troops, adding the key question now is how to pace withdrawals.

But congressional Democrats point out that the withdrawals would bring U.S. force levels only to a point they were before the military surge plan got underway, enabling President Bush to maintain a minimum 130,000 troop level through next year.

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