WASHINGTON: The House of Representatives began a debate on February 13 on whether President George W. Bush’s plan to add more US troops to the nearly four-year-old war in Iraq was a mistake.
Democrats, with some Republican support, were determined to approve a resolution disapproving of the president’s decision to deploy more than 20,000 additional combat troops to Iraq.
“This is the debate that many of us have yearned for for four years,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democat.
The measure, expected to be approved by the House on Friday, was nonbinding. But the message was unmistakeable, said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who maintained that Bush’s policies “have not worked, will not work and must be changed.”
Most Republicans, in the minority for the first time in 12 years, stood ready to rally behind their president. Democrats, said Rep. Jack Kingston, a Republican, are saying to forces in Iraq: “Americans are dying, the situation is dire, but we are not going to send more reinforcements. You are on your own.”
Democrats expressed confidence the measure would prevail and said they would attempt to use it as the opening move in a campaign to pressure Bush to change course and end US military involvement in the war. More than 3,100 US troops have died in nearly four years of fighting and so have tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Even before formal debate began Tuesday, lawmakers from the two sides took to the floor to express their views.
“As a new member of the House, I feel it is my responsibility to ask serious questions of the president who refuses to take this institution seriously,” said newly-elected Democrat John Hall.
“Some people from the other side seem to believe that if we pull out of Iraq, that the Iraqi people are going to go back to tending sheep and herding goats. That’s not what’s going to happen,” countered Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican.“If we pull out out of Iraq, what’s going to happen is you are going to see more bloodshed than we have seen in a long time in this world.”
Republicans conceded that the measure was headed for approval and said a few dozen members of the Republicans were likely to break party disicipline and vote for it.
In a reversal, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership decided Monday night not to give Republicans a chance to propose an alternative measure - a move that drew protests from Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the party’s House leader.
“At the end of the debate, we will vote on a straightforward proposition: whether we support the president’s plan or oppose it,” Pelosi said in her prepared remarks. “That vote will signal whether the House has heard the message the American people have sent about this war. The current policies have not worked, will not work and must be changed.”
It was the first debate about the war in either house of Congress since November’s elections, when public opposition to the conflict helped power Democrats to control of the House and Senate.
Bush’s decision last month to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to help stop sectarian violence has quickly become a flashpoint for critics of the war in Congress. There are currently about 141,000 American troops in Iraq and 27,000 in Afghanistan.