The US House of Representatives is to vote Friday on a resolution opposing President George W. Bush’s decision to deploy more troops to Iraq, the first major repudiation of the increasingly unpopular war.
It will be the first time the US Congress votes against Bush’s Iraq war policy since the March 2003 invasion, and could pave the way for binding legislation on the conflict that has killed more than 3,100 US troops.
The House vote on the nonbinding resolution, expected to pass by a wide margin, comes one day before the US Senate considers the same measure in a rare Saturday session. Republicans loyal to the president blocked an earlier Senate vote on a similar resolution.
The resolution, the subject of heated debate in the House all week, “disapproves” of Bush’s so-called troop “surge” of 21,500 US combat troops, while expressing full support for the 138,000 US soldiers in Iraq.
Between 40 and 60 Republicans in the 435-seat House are expected to vote for the measure, according to news media reports.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday that the same resolution would be debated just after the House vote.
“Democrats are determined to give our troops and the American people the debate they deserve, so the Senate will have another Iraq vote this Saturday,” Reid said.
In the US constitution, the president is the military commander-in-chief and in charge of foreign policy, but Congress is in charge of the budget.
Democrats have been groping for a way to end the unpopular Iraq war without appearing to be unpatriotic by denying money to US forces deployed abroad.
However, the powerful Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, may have solved the conundrum.
She told reporters that she will support funding US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan only if the Pentagon meets strict guidelines mandating proper rest, training, and equipment for the troops, the Washington Post reported Friday.
The move would effectively pull the plug on war funding, since the all-volunteer US military is already stretched thin and unable to supply enough armored vehicles and body armor for all deployed soldiers.
“If we are going to support our troops, we should respect what is considered reasonable for them: their training, their equipment, and their time at home,” Pelosi told a small group of reporters, according to the Post.
“What we are trying to say to the president is: You cannot send people in who are not trained for urban warfare … who are not prepared to contend with an insurgency.”
Her remarks coincided with a similar statement Thursday by Representative John Murtha, a Pelosi ally and a fierce anti-war critic.
Murtha, who heads a key budget subcommittee that can block funds to the military, said he wants the troops to spend at least one year at home between deployments.
A former Marine colonel, Murtha said in a video message to anti-war activists with the group Moveon.org that he would also end a program forcing soldiers to remain in the military after their contracts expired, and would make sure the soldiers are fully “combat ready” before heading into a war zone, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“That stops the surge for all intents and purposes,” Murtha said, because the Pentagon would not have enough troops if it meets the requirements.
The White House has shrugged off the nonbinding resolution in Congress, saying it would not sway the president as he presses ahead with his plan, which he announced January 10.
But Bush bristles at the notion that Congress may de-fund the war.
“The resolution they are debating [in the House] is nonbinding,” Bush said in a speech Thursday. “Soon the Congress is going to vote on a piece of legislation that is binding – a bill to provide emergency funding for our troops.”
US military forces “are counting on their elected leaders to provide them with the support they need to accomplish their mission,” he said.
Both Republicans and Democrats “have a responsibility to give our troops the resources they need to do their job, and the flexibility they need to prevail,” he emphasized.
Despite the popular sentiment against the war, it is politically risky to refuse to fund the US forces, especially for the large crop of Democrats – including Senators Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, Christopher Dodd, and Joe Biden – running for their party’s nomination for the 2008 presidential election.
A top Senate Republican and Bush loyalist, Trent Lott, derided the Saturday vote as “completely unnecessary.” And Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was confident the measure would again be blocked.
The Democrats are “nervous about having a freewheeling debate on the issue of funding the troops,” McConnell said. “At some point we will have a debate on the issue of funding the troops.”