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Dems try a return to basics

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February 6, 2007

By ANNE FLAHERTY

House Democratic leaders are considering a straightforward approach to next week’s Iraq war debate, planning a short and simple measure opposing President Bush’s decision to send more forces into combat.

The bare-bones approach is intended to persuade Republicans to break ranks with the GOP and express their frustration with a war without turning off Democrats who want to end the war by cutting funding.

In the Senate, meanwhile, a group of Republicans said Wednesday they would continue pushing for an Iraq resolution that stalled in the Senate earlier in the week.

Bush’s Jan. 10 announcement to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq ignited a firestorm of protests in Congress from Democrats and several Republicans.

“The odds are slim that this change in tactic will improve the security situation in Iraq,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The three-day debate in the House next week would be the first on the unpopular war since democrats won control of Congress in the Nov. 7 elections. More than 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, and a majority of the public opposes Bush’s handling of the war.

Republican leaders, who are seeking their own alternative measure that would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government, said they anticipate some GOP defections to the nonbinding Democratic resolution.

“I don’t think it’ll be a pure party-line vote,” said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said he wants Congress to express support for recommendations by the independent, bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The group, initiated at Wolf’s behest, suggested most U.S. combat troops be withdrawn from Iraq by early 2008, leaving only a small number of forces behind to train the Iraqi security forces and provide logistical support.

“We have seen that the current Iraq policy is not working,” Wolf said.

House Democratic leaders met privately Wednesday to discuss the proposal, which they planned to present to members during a Thursday caucus meeting.

Such a measure would indicate House leaders were moving away from a version that Senate Republicans blocked on Monday. GOP Sen. John Warner’s resolution expressed dissatisfaction with Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq and identified benchmarks that the Iraqi government should meet. It fell 11 votes short of the 60 required to move the debate forward.

In a bid to attract more GOP support, Warner had added a section promising to protect funding for troops in combat — a promise many House Democrats do not want to make.

Frustrated that Senate leaders could not agree on debate rules for his resolution, Warner and six other Republicans told the leaders in a letter Wednesday that “the current stalemate is unacceptable to us and to the people of this country.”

“Despite what has happened earlier this week, we are not going away,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Collins and Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., sided with Democrats in seeking to move ahead on the measure.

Five other Senate Republicans who oppose the troop increase and voted to bottle up the Senate measure signed the letter. They were Sens. Warner, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon and George Voinovich of Ohio.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he hoped the letter signified that the Republicans “have had a change of heart and will be willing to vote for their own resolution in the future.”

Meanwhile, a group of liberal House Democrats again raised the prospect of trying to cut off funds for the war.

“The president has left the Congress few alternatives other than to use the power of (the) purse spelled out in Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution to curtail U.S. military operations in Iraq,” California Democratic Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee said on behalf of 71 members of the progressive congressional caucus.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press