House on Deck in Iraq Debate

Posted February 6, 2007 at 6:36pm

With their Senate counterparts unable to move a resolution through the chamber disapproving of President Bush’s Iraq War strategy, House Democrats will push ahead with a measure of their own next week designed to put Members on record before they return to their districts for the Presidents Day recess.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday that he expected up to three days of debate on the resolution, whose language is being crafted by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.).

The House Democratic Caucus also is scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting Thursday to build consensus for the resolution vote next week and to assuage some Members’ concerns that the resolution does not go far enough.

Hoyer said that resolution will express “disagreement” or “reservation” on Bush’s plan to escalate the U.S. military presence in Iraq by 21,500 troops, and House Democratic leadership aides said Tuesday that the chamber’s resolution is expected to largely mirror the language in the Senate resolution authored by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.).

Like Warner’s, the House resolution also will be nonbinding, and Hoyer said it will come to the floor under a closed rule to limit amendments, arguing that an open rule would prompt too many amendments and unnecessarily extend the debate.

It is unlikely the resolution will go through the regular committee process at Foreign Affairs or Armed Services. Hoyer said next week’s time-crunch could make Democratic leaders opt to bypass committee to get the resolution on the floor Tuesday; however, he noted that the president’s proposal has already been subject to “extensive” hearings.

“We believe it’s important for us to make our views known prior to leaving for the Presidents Day break,” Hoyer said.

While GOP leaders have already voiced objection to the process under which the resolution will come to the floor, a number of Republicans are expected to vote for the resolution. “I hope so and expect so,” Hoyer said Tuesday.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) objected to Democrats’ decision to bring the resolution to the floor under a closed rule that forbids amendments.

“If you’re not going to really bring all of the ideas out there, the debate is only to score political points,” said Blunt.

Putnam went further, stating that when Republicans brought an Iraq War resolution to the House floor in November 2005 regarding troop withdrawal under a similarly restrictive rule, they were wrong and did so for political gain.

“You know what? [Democrats] were right,” Putnam said, “It was a game, and we got beat. I mean, did we learn anything from that? It was a resolution that didn’t go through committee and it should have, and it would have been a better resolution if it had.”

In recent weeks, knowledgeable House GOP sources said they could foresee at least 30 Members voting for the resolution, and possibly significantly more depending on the specific language of the measure. If the resolution does in fact largely resemble Warner’s proposal, one House Republican said they could lose up to 50 Members, particularly from the moderate faction of the Conference. House GOP and Democratic leaders have both said they will not whip the vote, allowing Members to vote freely.

Hoyer said he expected Republicans to be allowed to offer an alternative, and one Democratic leadership aide said the GOP likely would be allowed to offer a substitute on the floor.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has sponsored a leadership-backed resolution to create a bipartisan panel to conduct oversight on the war and set benchmarks for success in Iraq. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) also has sponsored a bill backed by leadership that would prohibit the House from cutting off funds to troops in the field.

Republicans are waiting to see the specifics of the Democratic resolution before they counter with their substitute.

Originally, House and Senate Democrats sought to have the Senate pass a resolution first before sending the identical language over to the House because any language that could garner majority support in the other chamber would have to be bipartisan, and the intention was to pass the bill with as many votes as possible in the House.

However, Senate parliamentary tactics prevented an up-or-down vote on the resolution Monday when Democrats failed to get the 60 votes necessary to end debate and move to the underlying bill. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has vowed to eventually get a vote on the Senate floor, the timetable is uncertain.

“The reason we’re going ahead is not because we don’t think the Senate will ever act,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “But we’re not sure when the Senate is going to act.”

House Democrats are expected to vote overwhelmingly for the resolution. Democratic aides said that while the resolution is intended to get bipartisan support, some of their rank-and-file Members on the left who advocate more extreme policies, such as immediate troop withdrawal, could oppose the resolution because it does not go far enough.

However, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), one of the approximately 70 Members in the Out of Iraq Caucus in the House, said that she expected Democrats to be able to reach near unanimity on the resolution. “I think it will be easier to get consensus on this,” she said, noting that the resolution is just the first step in a longer term strategy. “Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made it very clear that our goal is to end this war.”

Democrats who advocate troop withdrawal and a dramatic de-escalation of troops are more likely to make their stand in the near future as the House takes up Bush’s war supplemental and the fiscal 2008 budget.

“I think we have to divide the questions,” Schakowsky said. “How do you define supporting the troops in terms of how we spend the money?”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), one of the war’s most vocal opponents, declined to say how he would vote on the resolution before the language is made public, but he said that even Members who do not believe it goes far enough would be hard-pressed to vote against it because it would appear as though they were voting with Bush.

Kucinich added that the funding is the bigger issue. “The war is binding, the resolution is not,” he said, “We’ve got to get out of there, Congress must cut off the funds.”