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March 9, 2007

Moderate House Democrats' plan to get out of Iraq

Posted by David Postman at 2:43 PM

Congressman Adam Smith and other moderate House Democrats want to revoke President Bush's authorization for the Iraq war and force the president to get a new battle plan approved by Congress. The Department of Defense would have 60 days to present a plan for "phased deployment" of U.S. troops, and the mission would be restricted to "defeating Al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists," training Iraqi forces and protecting U.S. forces. The bill was introduced this afternoon.

Smith told me today:

"More and more we're recognizing that 150,000 U.S. troops are simply not in a position to stop the violence in Iraq and having them there arguably exacerbates that. It is now time to have a plan to get them out of there."

The bill is sponsored by California Rep. Ellen Tauscher, and co-sponsored by Smith, California Rep. Jane Harman, Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York and Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama. All are considered moderate "New Democrats."

(Note: All the sponsors voted for the initial Iraq war resolution, except Davis who hadn't been elected yet.)

The bill comes just as two other major Iraq moves are being proposed by House Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leaders, according to The New York Times:

presented legislation to their members on Thursday that would place new conditions on military operations in Iraq as well as call for a troop withdrawal no later than August 2008. The proposals are attached to an emergency spending bill that will be considered next week in the Appropriations Committee and debated on the House floor before the end of the month.

It would require Bush to verify that the Iraqi government was meeting deadlines for military, political and economic progress. If he can't do that, a majority of combat troops would start coming home this summer, with all back by the end of the year. The leadership plan focuses on Bush's request for nearly $100 billion to fund troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal says it was a move by Pelosi "to broaden the scope of an Iraq war funding bill and buy herself extra room to unite Democrats on the divisive issue and better challenge President Bush's policy."

More than $20 billion in new spending will be added to the administration's request even as the bill will call for withdrawing U.S. troops by the end of August next year. After weeks of pummeling by Republicans on the subject of the war, Democrats hope to regain the offensive less by challenging what is in Mr. Bush's funding request than what's not.

TPM Cafe is following the various House proposals carefully, including what was proposed by liberal members Thursday:

The crux of what the liberals want is this: Any further funding for the war, they say, should be earmarked for funding withdrawal of the troops. The idea is to fund withdrawal, rather than defund the war.

It all has created some infighting and a fair amount of intrigue among the ruling Democrats, which TPM describes here.

The Tauscher-Smith proposal is clearly a more conservative approach. As members of the House Armed Services Committee — and both chairs of subcommittees there — they are more focused on the authorization side of the budget rather than the appropriations where House leadership is concentrating.

Tauscher is an interesting story these days. In fact she got a front page profile in The Washington Post late last month. It focused on criticism about her from California liberals who see her as a sort of left coast version of Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Tauscher rolls her eyes at this kind of talk. She said she doesn't trust anything the Bush administration says, but it's the administration in power. "I want to represent my constituents, so I have to work with this president," she said. "I'm a pragmatic person. I don't have the luxury of saying, 'I'll come back in January 2009 and try to get some work done.' "

The Post says, "The anti-Tauscher backlash illustrates how the Democratic takeover has energized and emboldened the party's liberal base, ratcheting up the pressure on the party's moderates." You can get a taste of that backlash here.

Tauscher's and Smith's bill would provide a more dramatic moment than the leadership bill in that it would require a new vote on the use of force in Iraq. There are also similarities to the leadership proposal. It would include Iraq Study Group recommendations on requiring the Iraqi government to do more for security and reconstruction. Smith said he supports the leadership proposal, though clearly not the more liberal approach. He does not want troops pulled too fast from Iraq.

"A majority of Democrats don't want them rushing out of there. We need a military plan to withdraw responsibly. ... Congress is trying to exercise what I think is its responsibility and authority to force a change in direction of military policy when we think it's wrong."

Smith said that in an ideal world the president would have a greater say on what happens in Iraq.

"But we're not in an ideal world. The president has made enough mistakes in Iraq the last four years from just about anybody's perspective, save Dick Cheney, so can no longer give him that kind of blind trust."

Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, is taking a different approach. Thursday he and five other members of Congress met by teleconference with members of the Iraqi Parliament. The Iraqis were in Amman, Jordan, as part of an effort organized by Dal LaMagna and Raed Jarrar of the Progressive Government Institute. I wrote about LaMagna's anti-war lobbying in January.

According to an e-mail from LaMagna:

All of the Members in the conversation represented the "nationalist" political point of view for Iraq. Their position is they want one Iraq to remain after this crisis; they want the U.S. to set a timeline for withdrawal from their country; they want their natural resources controlled by a central government.
McDermott and Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., had wanted to bring one member of parliament to D.C. last year. But Mohammed al-Dynee of the Iraq National Dialogue Front only learned his visa to the U.S. had been approved Thursday.

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