In a significant defeat for President George W.
Bush, the House of Representatives Friday voted 246 to 182 to "disapprove"
his plan to add an estimated 30,000 U.S. troops to the 140,000 marines and soldiers
already deployed in Iraq. Seventeen Republicans voted with the majority Democrats
to approve the nonbinding resolution.
The vote, which capped 48 hours of debate over the past four days, constituted
the first Congressional denunciation of Bush's Iraq policy and set the stage
for a major battle next month over his request that the legislature approve
nearly 100 billion dollars more to finance U.S. military operations in Iraq
and Afghanistan this year.
Backed by polls that show almost two out of three U.S. voters oppose Bush's
plan, often referred to as "the surge," Democrats are already preparing
conditions and restrictions they plan to attach to Bush's request. If approved,
they will make it far more difficult for Bush to add the troops.
Friday's vote also set the stage for another showdown in a rare Saturday session
of the Senate where the Democratic leadership is expected to force a vote on
the same resolution approved by the House.
Although a clear majority of senators, including, according to most reports,
at least 12 Republicans, oppose Bush's plan, Senate Democrats will likely face
a filibuster a procedural tactic to indefinitely delay a vote by White
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must round up 60 votes, including those of
at least 11 Republicans, to defeat the filibuster, a threshold that he failed
to meet just a week ago on a more detailed bipartisan resolution.
Since that attempt, however, several polls have suggested that voters were
blaming Republicans for preventing a vote on Bush's plan. Reid is hoping that
enough Republicans particularly those who face tough reelection challenges
in 2008 will want to demonstrate their disapproval of Bush's conduct
of the war that they will desert their own leadership, as well as the White
"This is a process where step by step, we ratchet up the pressure on the
president and on his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate and force
them to do what the American people want," said Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer.
While the resolution approved by the House Friday is not binding on the president,
it marks an unprecedented repudiation of his policy, which was never seriously
challenged during the period that Republicans held majorities in both houses.
But last November's Democratic sweep of the mid-term elections, combined with
the virtually relentlessly bad news out of Iraq, transformed the political landscape.
Democrats, who, according to the polls, owed their victory to public disenchantment
with the war more than any other factor, have moved more aggressively than many
analysts expected to try to rein in the president and begin extracting U.S.
troops from Iraq.
The House vote Friday marked the initial move in that process. "This has
to be seen as both a watershed and as a first step," said Jim Cason, an
analyst at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, an antiwar lobby group.
"Now, Congress has to exercise its constitutional responsibilities and
articulate a new policy which it can do that by attaching conditions on funding.
And that's what they're doing. New funding should be made contingent on a new
A leader in that effort is the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense
Subcommittee, Rep. John Murtha, a highly decorated marine veteran with unusually
close ties to the uniformed military. Murtha, who has long been regarded as
conservative Democrat, broke with the administration on Iraq in late 2005 by
calling for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops.
At a briefing Thursday, Murtha, who also enjoys strong backing from the new
Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, said he will use his committee to attach
a series of conditions on Bush's 2007 emergency supplemental request that will
make it very difficult for Bush to add troops, including a ban on extending
the tours of U.S. forces in Iraq or sending troops that have not had a year
between tours for training.
"That stops the surge, for all intents and purposes," Murtha said.
"They know they can't sustain the surge if these restrictions pass the
House and Senate. The president can always veto it, but then he won't have any
He said he intends to introduce other conditions, including the closure of
the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and a ban on spending
any money for the purpose of establishing permanent bases in Iraq or for launching
an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization, which the Bush administration
is likely to find difficult to accept.
On the Senate side, meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, Joseph Biden, is working on legislation to repeal Congress's 2002
resolution that authorized Bush to attack Iraq and redefine the mission of U.S.
military forces there now.
"Opposing the surge is only the first step," he said Thursday. "We
need a radical change in course in Iraq. If the president won't act, Congress
will have to attempt to do so."
The bipartisan opposition in both houses, Republican and Democrat, appears
to have embraced the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), the bipartisan
task force co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep.
In its report released in early December, the ISG called for a gradual redeployment
of most U.S. combat troops out of Iraq over the next 14 months and intensified
diplomatic efforts to directly engage Iran and Syria, as well as Iraq's other
neighbors, in stabilizing Iraq, among other measures.
In rejecting those recommendations, promoting his surge, and ratcheting up
tensions with Iran, Bush appears to have lost the confidence and patience
of key Republicans, such as Sen. John Warner, the former Armed Services Committee
chairman, who, like Murtha, is regarded as particularly close to the uniformed
It was his resolution, which closely tracked the ISG's recommendations and
was endorsed by a significant number of Republicans, as well as Biden and most
Democratic senators, which was stymied by last week's Republican filibuster.
(Inter Press Service)