Senate Democratic leaders intend to unveil a plan next week to repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing the war in Iraq in favor of narrower authority that restricts the military's role and begins withdrawals of combat troops.
House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party's own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
"If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who personally lodged his concerns with Murtha.
In both chambers, Democratic lawmakers are eager to take up binding legislation that would impose clear limits on U.S. involvement in Iraq after nearly four years of war. But Democrats remain divided over how to proceed. Some want to avoid the funding debate altogether, fearing it would invite Republican charges that the party is not supporting the troops. Others take a more aggressive view, believing the most effective way to confront President Bush's war policy is through a $100 billion war-spending bill that the president ultimately must sign to keep the war effort on track.
Last week, the House approved a nonbinding resolution that criticized Bush's decision to deploy an additional 21,500 troops, but the measure was blocked in the Senate by Republicans during a rare Saturday session. It is probable that Senate Democrats will encounter the same procedural roadblock in attempting to push through another resolution, in particular one with real teeth.
"I've had enough of 'nonbinding,' " said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who is helping to draft the new Democratic proposal. The 2002 war resolution, he said, is an obvious target.
"The authorization that we gave the president back in 2002 is completely, completely outdated, inappropriate to what we're engaged in today," he said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) began calling for a reauthorization of the war early last month and raised it again last week, during a gathering in the office of Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Participants included Kerry, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (Mich.), Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Russell Feingold (Wis.). Those Democratic senators have emerged as an unofficial war council representing the caucus's wide range of views.
"We gave the president that power to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and, if necessary, to depose Saddam Hussein," Biden said of the 2002 resolution in a speech last week before the Brookings Institution. "The WMD was not there. Saddam Hussein is no longer there. The 2002 authorization is no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq."
Biden and Levin are drafting language to present to their colleagues when the Senate reconvenes on Tuesday, following a week-long recess.
The new framework would set a goal for withdrawing combat brigades by March 31, 2008, the same timetable established by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Once the combat phase ends, troops would be restricted to assisting Iraqis with training, border security and counterterrorism.
Senior Democratic aides said the proposed resolution would be sent directly to the Senate floor for action, without committee review, possibly as an amendment to a homeland security bill scheduled for debate next week.
Reid said no final decision had been made on the timing. Spokesman Jim Manley said Reid wants to present the idea to other Democrats before determining how and when to proceed.
Party leaders in the House are likely to present a proposal for binding legislation to the Democratic caucus next week, according to lawmakers in that chamber. But lawmakers and senior Democratic aides said Murtha's plan would have to be scaled back dramatically, after a week-long Republican assault.
Murtha, chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee and a leading critic of the war, had intended to fully fund Bush's $100 billion war request for the remainder of this fiscal year. But under his plan, those funds could be spent only to deploy combat troops deemed fully rested, trained and equipped.
After nearly four years of combat, most military units would not be able to meet those standards. Although the war would be fully funded, the policy would prevent some of the 21,500 additional combat troops from being deployed, and some troops already in Iraq would have to be sent home.
But that approach may be all but dead, according to several Democratic lawmakers. Murtha doomed his own plan in part by unveiling it on a left-wing Web site, inflaming party moderates.
"Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds," said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a leading Democratic moderate, who called Murtha's whole effort "clumsy."
Cooper's position underscores the challenges now facing the House Democratic leadership. While the caucus's liberal wing is demanding legislation to end the war almost immediately, moderates such as Cooper say Congress should focus on oversight of the war and stay away from legislation that encroaches on the war powers of the president.
"I think Congress begins to skate on thin ice when we start to micromanage troop deployments and rotations," said Texas's Edwards, whose views reflect those of several other Democrats from conservative districts.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) pointed out that Democrats still have public opinion strongly on their side and that a vote on any plan would place Republicans in more jeopardy than Democrats. A new, more restrictive authorization for the war also is gaining serious consideration in the House, Emanuel noted.
Several Democratic aides say the Iraq funding bill, due for a vote the week of March 12, may contain some of Murtha's demands for more training and better equipment for combat troops. But the proposals that set the toughest requirements are likely to drop out, such as a demand that troops be trained on and deployed with the combat equipment they will use in Iraq.
More important, the legislation may include a waiver that the president or defense secretary could invoke to deploy troops who are not fully combat-ready, Democratic aides said. That way, the commander in chief's hands would not be tied.
But under such a bill the president would have to publicly acknowledge that he is deploying troops with less than a year's rest from combat, that he is extending combat tours of troops in Iraq, or that he is sending units into battle without full training in counterinsurgency or urban warfare, the aides said.
This really worries me. What bothers me is that the troops are caught in the middle of a president who WON'T allow them to win the war, and the in control democratic party who will tie their hands together making it very hard to get anything done and defend their selves. If Bush was really interested in winning the war, we could have already done that. We have 149,000+ troops stationed in Europe that could and should be sent to Iraq. Why they have not, I don't know. Now we have the democrats pulling this. The last paragraph bothers me because all the dems are trying to do is make Bush look bad instead of doing what is right for the men and women of our armed forces. While I agree that the troops need to be brought home, and I'd love to see Bush come on TV and say "Screw you guys.. I'm going home", we all know he can't do that. Leaving Iraq will throw the country into a massive civil war with someone much like Saddam taking over. Not only that, we would instantly create thousands upon thousands of enemies and the entire world would throw one big pissy fit. I'm sorry, there has got to be a(enter conspiracy theory here) reason for all of this. NONE of this makes any sense.
Excuse ME...We DID WIN The WAR !!!
We are now trying to help the new Government gain control over the Radical Factions and Internal Civil war that is Brewing because of the Suni's and Sheites.( And Al Quaida terrorists). You just can't fight a war in the halls of congress and it will soon be another Viet Nam. Where did you come up with the notion that President Bush won't let them win ?
Would you walk out and abandon the People who have tasted Freedom because of the U.S. Actions and who do thank us ?
I better shutup before I Blow a fuse...
For sake of argument, this isn't a War, Civil War or any kind of War. Bush never officially declared "War" remember? I think he's saving that for Iran, when they deem it necessary...
Bush and his administration has also said recently that the conflict in Iraq is not of a "Civil War" nature but only sects of "evildoers" who want to wreak havoc among the peacefull citizens of Iraq.
If Bush wanted to win this conflict, he would Declare War, send 1 million troops over there and wipe up. It is stupid that this one conflict, this one small (respectively) conflict, has been going on for longer than we were involved in WWII. Quit goin' about it half-assed.
"Excuse me, you have a little Anti-Gunner in your teeth there. You might want to floss it out."
Agreed. Mexico isnt the only border we should close. I say kill anything that moves across ANY Iraqi border, either direction, and then root out all the terrorists, guns, bombs, etc. I think Bush is afraid he'll piss everyone off if he fought a real war where more Iraqis died. We could use a cowboy like Reagan or Kennedy(John)now.
__________________ "I'm your huckleberry. Thats just my game!"