House Democrats Mull Options for Iraq Bills

Posted February 26, 2007 at 6:50pm

House Democrats will continue to spotlight rules requiring training levels and rest periods for military personnel in the coming weeks when the chamber turns to the supplemental spending bill to fund the Iraq War, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday the subject of how to enforce those efforts remains under discussion.

Pelosi asserted Monday there is not “much opposition” among House lawmakers to adhering to existing guidelines that dictate specific training requirements and rest periods for soldiers deployed to war zones.

But the Speaker reiterated that she has yet to endorse a proposal announced by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, that would use Congressional control over the purse strings to require that those guidelines are closely followed, and make it more difficult for President Bush to execute his current war strategy, including an increase in troop levels.

“It isn’t a plan,” Pelosi said at a press briefing Monday afternoon. “The guidelines exist. Mr. Murtha is calling attention to them. But it’s not a condition for whether we will fund them.”

During an earlier appearance Monday, Pelosi reiterated that Democratic leaders have yet to see a final version of the Murtha proposal, which he unveiled last week on the Web site MoveCongress.org, an anti-war organization.

Republican lawmakers heavily criticized Murtha’s initial announcement, characterizing any efforts to slow or stop troop deployments as a “slow-bleed” strategy, arguing that restricting those efforts would have the same effect as cutting off funding for the military.

But Democrats have vowed they will not eliminate funding for military personnel already deployed to Iraq. “Republicans are attacking something they haven’t seen,” added one Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) questioned whether House lawmakers would support any plan containing those elements highlighted by Murtha.

“I think there is unqualified opposition to any plan that would have Congress micromanaging the war or the duties of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” said Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy. “Many rank-and-file Democrats have made that clear, perhaps not to their leadership, but in the press. Those decisions should continue to be made by the military commanders, not 535 politicians on Capitol Hill.”

Republicans also have defended the Pentagon’s existing “stop-loss” regulations, noting they are intended to maintain a professional military during wartime.

A Murtha aide said Monday that the Pennsylvania lawmaker is expected to make a formal public statement on his proposal in the coming days, but details remained unavailable.

In the meantime, the Democratic Caucus is expected to discuss the supplemental and various proposals to alter the war’s current trajectory at its weekly meeting today.

“That’s the discussion we’ll be having,” Pelosi said.

Among the possible plans House lawmakers could endorse, Pelosi acknowledged, is a proposal by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) that would rework the 2002 war authorization to more narrowly focus operations in Iraq.

While Pelosi did not endorse the proposal specifically, stating that she had not seen the language, she added: “I do support the idea that the authorization should be more focused.” Specifically, Pelosi cited the idea that the U.S. military should focus on training of Iraqi forces rather than combat operations.

Although he is not expected to formally address his fellow lawmakers, Democratic observers said Murtha may meet with Democratic leadership at its weekly meeting, also slated to take place today. Murtha also is set to meet with the Progressive Caucus this week to review his proposal.

The war supplemental is expected to move through the House Appropriations Committee next week and could be on the floor the following week.