‘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

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Christina Bellantoni By Charles Hurt

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.

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“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.

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