House Adopts Resolution Disapproving New Iraq Policy

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington -– The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a nonbinding resolution February 16 reiterating congressional support for U.S. forces serving in Iraq, but disapproving President Bush’s plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops there.

Seventeen Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in approving the measure, allowing the resolution to pass by a vote of 246 to 182.

The House took up the measure after a similar resolution stalled in the Senate over a procedural dispute.  Under the U.S. Constitution, laws crafted by Congress and approved by a simple majority require approval by the president. If the president rejects, or vetoes, a bill or resolution, the veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress. A nonbinding resolution does not have the force of law, but does send a strong message on behalf of lawmakers.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, who co-sponsored the resolution, said it was a second chance for the Bush administration to hear the “loud and unmistakable message” American voters sent on the Iraq war when they gave Democrats a decisive victory in the November 2006 congressional elections.

“The majority of Congress wants de-escalation.  The majority of the American people want de-escalation.  Many Republicans throughout the nation - and even our Republican colleagues in this Congress - want de-escalation.  Poll numbers show that even the Iraqi people want the United States to gradually withdraw,” Lantos told his colleagues in the House on submitting the resolution for debate February 13.  He suggested that the administration’s insistence on boosting the number of troops deployed to Iraq puts it in an increasingly isolated position.

The new Executive Branch plan amounts to “throwing our soldiers into the midst of a civil war” between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, Lantos said.  “We are not fighting terrorism in Iraq; we are attempting to referee a religiously based civil war which saps our strength and destroys our fabric as a society,” he added.

President Bush weighed in on the debate during a February 14 press conference.  “I find it interesting that there is a declaration about a plan that they have not given a chance to work,” he said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said shortly after the House vote that the president developed the new strategy for Iraq after he concluded that it was essential to help the Iraqi government gain control over Baghdad and enhance security across the country.

"This plan enjoys the support of the Iraqi government and U.S. military leadership, including General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, who recently was confirmed to his post by an 81-0 vote in the Senate," Snow said in a prepared statement.  "The President ordered a new way forward in Iraq because he, like most Americans, believed the existing situation in Iraq was unacceptable."

Snow said the president soon will ask Congress for additional funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Congress should provide it to allow U.S. forces to succeed in their mission, Snow said.

The House resolution does not include any mention of funding for military operations in Iraq.  In principle, Congress has the power to eliminate or restrict funding for military deployments, and Democratic congressional leaders have indicated that they may attach restrictions to the administration’s $93 billion Iraq war supplemental funding request when they take up the matter in March.  John Murtha, who heads the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, has indicated that his panel might restrict the Pentagon from deploying additional troops unless certain training and equipment requirements are met.

Bush warned congressional leaders against taking such steps.  “I'm going to make it very clear to the members of Congress, starting now, that they need to fund our troops and … make sure we have the flexibility necessary to get the job done,” he said.

Lantos appeared unwilling to back down from a confrontation with the White House over its Iraq war policy.  He called the resolution “the first phase in a long-overdue process of congressional oversight of the war in Iraq” that will be occupying members in the months ahead.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to shelve the Senate’s proposed version of the resolution and called for a February 17 vote on whether to adopt the simpler language of the House version.  If that vote succeeds, Reid may cancel the upcoming President’s Day recess to hold debates on the resolution.

The full text of Snow’s statement is available on the White House Web site.