GOP Boxed Out on Iraq

Democrats Change Debate Plan

Posted February 13, 2007 at 8:51am

After more than a week of discussion over how — and whether — to allow the Republican minority to raise its alternative to a resolution condemning President Bush’s proposed troop increase in Iraq, House Democratic leaders opted Monday night to prevent the GOP from offering its own measure.

In a late-night meeting, the Rules Committee, voting along party lines, set terms of debate that will prohibit any amendments to the resolution during the three-day debate, and provide the GOP with only a procedural motion to recommit without instruction, and not a substitute measure.

Republican lawmakers proposed a substitute measure legislation authored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) that calls for full implementation of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, as well as a bill by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) to guarantee continued funding for the U.S. military. Both were blocked from floor consideration on party-line votes.

That decision process followed a week in which the majority sent conflicting messages on its approach, asserting at times that Republicans would be allowed to offer and debate a substitute measure, before retreating to state that the minority would receive at least some opportunity to respond, citing the standard procedural motion to recommit.

At a Thursday press conference, following a Democratic Caucus meeting to discuss the content of the resolution, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asserted: “The Republicans will be given either a substitution or a motion to recommit so that they can propose whatever substantive alternative they choose. That will also be debated.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) echoed those comments during the same briefing, stating: “They are going to offer their alternative and we’ll have a vote on that.”

But asked about those remarks during an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Hoyer recanted, stating that it is “not necessarily our plan, at this point in time.”

Citing the Senate’s failure to move forward on a similar resolution earlier this month, Democratic leaders have asserted that they want to avoid raising other issues during debate on whether to formally oppose the troop increase.

“We believe the American public want[s] a straightforward answer to the question: Do you agree with the president’s proposal? [The] Republican president has made a proposal, we’re going to respond to that,” Hoyer said on “Meet the Press.”

Democrats have acknowledged that the Iraq War will be the subject of future debates as well, as Congress considers an expected supplemental spending bill after the Presidents Day recess and subsequent fiscal 2008 appropriations measures.

Although House leaders were leaning toward options including a substitute proposal following a meeting last week, it became clear they had moved away from allowing an alternative proposal as the week progressed, even as Democrats maintained other portions including a five-minute allotment per Member for the three-day debate.

“There was an ongoing conversation among leadership,” said Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Bernards. “It evolved over the course of the week. … Mr. Hoyer spoke and reflected the opinion of the leadership at the time” on Thursday.

Although one Democratic source indicated that Democratic leaders had disagreements over the issue following Thursday’s press conference, House leadership aides dismissed those allegations as mischaracterizations, asserting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others had evolved uniformly in their thinking on the issue.

“We feel this is such a critically important question and 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 asserted Thursday afternoon on the House floor.

House Republicans criticized Democrats for backtracking on their earlier commitment to allow the minority to offer an alternative on the floor, while Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the leadership team also worked to frame the resolution as the first marker that will lead to starving funds for the military in Iraq.

“This resolution is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to cut off funding for American troops who are in harm’s way, and their leaders have made this abundantly clear,” Boehner said in a statement Monday. “If Democrats are serious about supporting our troops, they will allow Republicans to offer a substantive alternative that binds the Congress to an unwavering and unambiguous commitment to fund the American men and women who wear our uniform.”

But a Democratic aide dismissed that notion Monday night, saying, “As the recent experience in the Senate has shown, some Republicans only want to distract from the president’s plan. The American people want a clear, forceful statement from Congress on the president’s plan to escalate the war. We will not allow Republicans to muddy the waters.”

A number of Republicans are expected to vote in favor of the resolution, with knowledgeable sources in recent weeks estimating 20 to 60 GOP votes siding with Democrats.

“Obviously there are going to be some defections,” said an aide to a prominent moderate Member, adding that the resolution unveiled Monday did not change that dynamic.

The House Republican Conference, led by Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) was working with its rank and file to define the debate, which begins today and is scheduled to end Friday.

“What we want to do is ensure that we drive four key themes,” said Ed Patru, a spokesman for the Conference. Those themes include: understanding the enemy and the historical perspective, the consequences of failure in Iraq, the fact that the resolution is nonbinding and does not affect the ongoing war, and that Democrats have not introduced a plan on Iraq.

The GOP leadership team is expected to start and end debate on their side, and Members like Johnson, a Vietnam veteran who has introduced legislation that would prohibit Congress from denying funds to troops in the field, are expected to figure prominently in the debate.

One House GOP aide to a conservative Member said Members will highlight what they say is Democratic hypocrisy. “They are putting out a resolution that says ‘We don’t support the mission but we’re going to continue funding it?’” the aide said. “We think that’s extremely hypocritical.”

Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) also sent a letter Monday to the chairs of the Out of Iraq Caucus and the Progressive Caucus, both of which have members who advocate more extreme policies in Iraq — such as immediate withdrawal — asking for their support to allow amendments on the floor to the resolution.

“While our views on the proper prosecution of the war in Iraq may differ,” Shadegg and seven co-signers wrote, “We should agree that all views on this issue deserve to be considered.”

Democrats are expected to be unified on the vote, but Republicans believe there will be opportunities to highlight the divide in the Democratic Caucus on the funding of the war in the upcoming debates on the supplemental spending bill and the budget.