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Analysts: Much at Stake in Coming US House Debate on President's Iraq Plan

The debate in the U.S. Congress on Iraq shifts to the House of Representatives next week, as lawmakers consider a non-binding Democratic-backed resolution opposing President Bush's military surge plan. VOA's Dan Robinson will be watching events and reports on the objectives majority Democrats have for the debate, and steps Republicans are likely to take to emphasize their position on Iraq.

After the attention focused on the Senate, where disagreements temporarily blocked debate on three resolutions criticizing or supporting the president's plan, the spotlight will be on the 435-member House.

Democratic leaders have devoted three days for lawmakers to speak for or against a simple resolution expressing support for U.S. troops, but stating disagreement with President Bush's decision to send an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq.

The question for Democrats is how many Republicans they can bring on in support of the measure, which specifically avoids describing the troops increase as an escalation.

In announcing their plan, which could involve as much as 12 hours of debate each of the three days scheduled, Democrats expressed confidence they will be able to attract Republican support.

"This is an up or down vote on the policy enunciated by the president. We owe it to our constituents to have that. The president asked for, as he spoke to us [in his speech on Iraq in January] a thorough debate and we are going to have that in the House of Representatives next week," said Rahm Emanuel, who heads the House Democratic Party Caucus.

Republican leaders attempting to maintain unity in their ranks call the Democratic resolution a political stunt.

John Boehner, House Minority Leader, predicts a majority of Republicans will support the president and asserts a non-binding measure will have no impact on the course the president pursues. "No, because it is a meaningless political stunt. If they want to do something real, well then bring a resolution out on to the floor that either supports the president [or] stops funding, but let's not have some non-binding resolution, let's deal with something real," he said.

Boehner continues to acknowledge skepticism among Republicans that the U.S.-Iraqi anti-insurgent push in Baghdad and al-Anbar province can work.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer dismisses the suggestion by Boehner that the debate will lack meaning unless the resolution is made binding on the president. "The American people will have their representatives for the three days articulate their view on how we ought to proceed, and that is important I think for the president to hear, it is important for the country to hear, and we will assure that that is done," he said.

Whatever the outcome of the final vote on the Democratic resolution, and an alternative measure Republicans may offer, Democrats are pursuing other tactics aimed at having a more direct impact on the president's latitude regarding troop deployments and funding.

Democratic-controlled committees will subject administration budgets to intense scrutiny, part of annual consideration of defense authorization and appropriation bills.

John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and Iraq war critic will play a pivotal role as head of a key defense appropriations Subcommittee which will examine a $93-billion White House request for Iraq and Afghanistan war funding. "We are going to check every cent that is spent by the U.S. government in the hearings on the [Iraq emergency funding] supplemental, and on the ordinary [defense] bill," he said.

In 2005, then majority Republicans responded to Congressman Murtha's call for a phased withdrawal, or redeployment, of U.S. troops from Iraq by forcing a similar Iraq war debate on the floor of the House.

Fierce rhetorical battles raged over the Republican-crafted resolution aimed at portraying then minority Democrats as unpatriotic and unsupportive of the troops as in this exchange between Democrat Jim McGovern and Georgia's Phil Gingrey.

MCGOVERN: It is demeaning to those who have raised questions about the war in Iraq, it is demeaning to the American public who now overwhelmingly have questions about this war in Iraq. They want us to take this issue seriously and not just play politics with it.

GINGREY: They [Democrats] are going to have the opportunity today on the floor of this House to vote yes or no, do they want us to immediately pull our troops out of Iraq?

Many of the same issues raised in that debate 15 months ago, which ended with an overwhelming bipartisan 403 to 3 vote against any sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, will likely be heard again on the floor of the House this week.

However, the 2007 debate occurs against a background of drastically deteriorated conditions in Iraq, and soured feelings among Americans toward the war, that raise the stakes considerably for Congress and the administration.