House Readies For Iraq Debate

Posted February 9, 2007 at 6:43pm

As House Democratic leaders are slated to unveil today a succinct resolution condemning President Bush’s proposed escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq, Republican lawmakers are readying an aggressive response from the chamber’s floor throughout the three-day debate over the measure.

Democratic sources said language in what is expected to be an austere resolution — consisting of only two provisions: one expressing general support for the military personnel and a second condemning Bush’s proposed increase of 21,500 troops — would be the primary subject of weekend discussions, as lawmakers seek to garner bipartisan support while still clearly reproaching the Bush administration.

“We want to make it as direct and concise as possible,” said a Democratic leadership aide, who asked not to be named. Democrats have indicated the measure will not specifically reference “escalation,” in an effort to sway GOP lawmakers to support the measure.

“We want to make it a clear vote on the president’s plan,” the aide added.

Under the Democrats’ proposed schedule, each Member will receive five minutes of floor time during the debate, scheduled to begin Tuesday, although aides said a specific lineup for Democratic lawmakers remained largely undecided prior to the weekend.

While the Democratic leadership is expected to spotlight several freshman lawmakers who also are military veterans, other internal factions are seeking blocks of time as well, including the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs and the Progressive Caucus, which has endorsed funding a six-month redeployment plan.

The Democrats’ debate time will be jointly controlled by Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.).

The party expected to be largely unified on the resolution, even as portions of the Caucus seek additional measures targeting funding for the Iraq War as well as fiscal accountability, asserting that the measure is the first of several large discussions on the war.

“There’s always tomorrow. We don’t have to put it all in the first crack we get,” said Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.).

Although Democratic leaders indicated late last week that the Republican minority would be allowed to offer a substitute measure — the resolution is expected to be a closed rule with no possibility for amendments — no decision had been finalized as of press time Friday.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday that Democrats had yet to determine whether to allow an alternate proposal, citing the sensitive nature of the resolution.

“We feel this is such a critically important question and that the clarity of the question and the clarity of the response is so important that we are trying to carefully consider how we can assure that there is no confusion as to the answer that this House gives,” Hoyer said.

One Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Democrats were concerned that a Republican substitute, such as legislation sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), could shift the focus of the debate away from the increase in troops.

“We want this to be a clean message opposing escalation,” the aide said.

A Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be named, asserted that many rank-and-file Members were lobbying against allowing Republicans to offer a substitute resolution, asserting it could “fracture” the majority.

Republicans, who had yet to determine Friday whether to bring new legislation or an existing bill should a substitute be allowed, sharply criticized the Democrats.

“It looks like Democrats are going for a very carefully choreographed debate with strictly defined parameters for a predetermined outcome. I don’t think you can even call that a debate,” said Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Nevertheless, House Republicans have prepared a response plan for next week’s debate, including plans to blanket television and radio with interviews, as well as rapid-response messaging that will track the floor debate and a “resource center” for Members to provide research and debate material.

In addition, the GOP plan will focus on several themes, including Iraq’s context in the larger war on terror and the consequences of losing the Iraq War, with lawmakers expected to assert that withdrawal could destabilize the entire region as well as invite terrorist attacks in the United States.

According to an outline of the plan, Republicans also will focus on arguments that the resolution will weaken troop morale and assert that Democrats have a responsibility to halt funding if they disagree with the president’s proposed strategy.

Boehner will open debate for the Republicans, although the remaining lineup is not yet determined. Ranking GOP lawmakers on the Intelligence, Armed Services, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees will share control of the party’s debate time.