‘Vindicated’ Democrats see green light to pull out of Iraq
Top party leaders rebuff calls to cut off war funds Vow ‘extensive’ analysis of Baker study group report
TopDemocratsinCongressareignoringcallsfromwithintheircaucus to eliminate funding for troops in Iraq, a strategy some say is necessary to end U.S. involvement in the war.
“There is only one way in which theUnitedStateswillwithdrawfrom Iraq prior to the end of President Bush’s term,” said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich,OhioDemocrat.“Congress must vote to cut off funds.”
Democraticleadersflatlyrejected the idea on Dec. 5, insisting they will move to “change the course” of the war but will continue to appropriate money to support the troops fighting inIraq.TheDemocratswonbackthe HouseandSenateleadershipinlarge part with staunch opposition to the Iraqwar,butmanyworrythatcutting off funding would seem unpatriotic.
“My only real comment is you have to support the troops,” incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton said about the Kucinich proposal. The Missouri Democrat initially supported the war but now wants gradual troop withdrawal.
Mr. Kucinich is trying to convince his colleagues that resolutions to withdraw troops have no legal effect as long as the president receives appropriations to continue the war. He said Congress must “force a new direction” in Iraq.
“Even a substantial reduction of funds could leave open the door for a legal claim that Congress still intendstokeeptroopsinIraq,”saidMr. Kucinich,aDemocraticpresidential contender in 2004.
Several members of the Out of Iraq Caucus support a less drastic measure to end war funding.
Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, said his plan would send “a signal that our occupation has to end.” It would cut off most fundingbutleavemoneyforthe“safe and orderly” withdrawal of troops, economicrecoveryandinternational peacekeeping.
Mr. McGovern’s proposal has 18 co-sponsors. Mr. Kucinich’s plan, whichhasnotsurfacedintheformof a bill, has received no endorsement.
Partyleadersinsteadfavorsetting conditions on appropriations.
“As long as our troops are in harm’sway,Democratswillbethere to support them,” said House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi of California. “We will not cut off funding for the troops.”
Democrats downplayed intraparty divisions. “No matter how you look at it, there is a consensus this war needs to end,” Mr. McGovern said.
Rep.BarneyFrank,Massachusetts Democrat, dismissed the Kucinich planas“silly,”butoneRepublicansaid itisthemostgenuineproposalhehas heard from a war opponent.
“I completely disagree with him, but he is the only honest voice of liberalism in the House,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina.
Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the incoming chairman of the House Appropriations subcommitteeondefense,toldfellowDemocrats thathewillnowallowanemergency requestfromtheWhiteHouseforbillions of dollars in supplemental appropriations and will insist that the president lay out exact spending plans for completing the mission in Iraq.
Majority Leader-elect Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said conditions“maywellbeattached”to the next such bill, expected to total $160 billion.
Mrs. Pelosi said Democrats will insistonoversight,whichincludesinvestigationsintomissingdefenseappropriations and subcontractors such as Halliburton Co.
Some anti-war groups think that cutting off funding would be a quick way to end the conflict. Democrats took such action in 1974 during the Vietnam War. When a $70 billion spending measure was up for a vote in September, only 20 House Democratsopposedit.Itreceivedunanimous support in the Senate.
Congressional Democrats say their criticisms of the Iraq war are vindicatedbytheIraqStudyGroup’s report and promised to begin “extensive hearings” in January that will continue for months.
“We’re going to bring in every reasonable person we can find — left, right and center; military, civilianandgovernment—todiscusselements of this report and discuss what alternatives there may be,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who will head the Foreign Relations Committee, said Dec. 6 after a private briefing with members of the bipartisan panel.
Democrats—manyofwhom,including Mr. Biden, voted to authorize the Iraq war — also took the opportunity to claim victory in the debate about the war, which is sure to dominate politics for the foreseeable future and likely through the 2008 presidential election.
“Their report indicates that they agree with what the election results were on Nov. 7: There must be a change of course in Iraq,” said Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who will become majority leader next month when Democrats take control of the chamber. “The Iraq Study Group is a rejection of the policies of the Bush administration on war in Iraq.”
Mr. Reid was among those who voted for the war.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the study “concluded that the president’s Iraq policy failed and must change.”
Though she said she hadn’t read the entire report, she noted the recommendation to shift the primary mission in Iraq to training and support from combat.
“Months ago, House and Senate Democratic leaders suggested to the president that he implement one of the study group’s chief recommendations,” said Mrs. Pelosi, who voted against going to war. “Now that the study group has endorsed this proposal, I hope that the president will recognize that he must take our policy in Iraq in a new direction.”
While the panel’s report certainly ratifies many of the complaints Democrats have lodged against the Bush administration’s war policy in recent years, it also presents something of a dicey situation for Democrats as well. In the first place, Democrats are hardly united about how to proceed.
Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, said the report doesn’t call for a quick enough withdrawal. “Staying in Iraq is not an option politically, militarily or fiscally,” said Mr. Murtha, who also voted in favor of the war.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the Texas Democrat who was recently selected by Mrs. Pelosi to head the House intelligence committee, voted in 2002 against going to war but argues that now U.S. troops are there and leaving prematurely would be disastrous.
“I don’t want Iraq to become the next Afghanistan,” he said in a recent interview with Newsweek magazine. “We could not allow Iraq to become a safe haven for al Qaeda, for Hamas, for Hezbollah, or anybody else. We cannot allow Iran or Syria to have a free hand in there to further destabilize the Middle East.”
While Democrats say they won the November elections on a promise to get troops out of Iraq, they refuse to discuss using the one sure tool they have to immediately halt the operation: cutting off funding.
“Doing anything like that might hurt the troops,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who voted for the war, said. Democrats in Congress will provide oversight for now, and on matters of foreign policy, he said, legislation should be the last option.
“We will not cut off funding for the troops,” said House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi. She and Majority Leader-elect Steny H. Hoyer prefer setting conditions on appropriations.