Murtha gears up for legislative battle on Iraq war funding
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WASHINGTON -- As the House prepares to vote today on a symbolic bill criticizing President Bush's Iraq strategy, Pennsylvania's Rep. John Murtha is getting ready to pivot to a much tougher legislative battle over restricting funding for the war.
The Johnstown Democrat yesterday outlined his ideas in an interview posted on the Web site of an anti-war group, promising to use his powers as the ranking Democrat in control of defense spending to force the Bush administration to meet certain training and equipment levels for units deploying to Iraq.
"They know they can't sustain the surge if this resolution passes the House and the Senate," he said in the interview with MoveCongress.org, an anti-war group. "We're supporting the troops, we're protecting the troops, but, on the other hand, we're going to stop this surge."
Mr. Murtha, chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, plans to attach his requirements in coming weeks to the administration's $93.4 billion request for extra war money. His actions are likely to spark a heated dispute with congressional Republicans and the White House.
In addition to training and equipment standards, Mr. Murtha's proposal calls for units to get at least one year at home between tours overseas, no deployments lasting more than a year and an end to the "stop-loss" program that lets the military recall troops who have completed their enlistment commitments.
He also hopes to force the closure of the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and force the president to come to Congress for authorization should he decide to attack Iran.
In an interview with The Associated Press, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she backs Mr. Murtha.
Mr. Bush this week warned Congress not to meddle with war funding. "Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C., to provide them with the support they need to do their mission," he said Wednesday. "We have a responsibility, all of us here in Washington, to make sure that our men and women have the resources and the flexibility they need to prevail."
The debate on Capitol Hill has focused on a non-binding resolution that disapproves of the president's decision to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq. But the funding issue looms, as Democrats and Republicans alike clashed yesterday over the meaning of today's vote.
"Make no mistake, this is a resolution in support of our troops. Anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong," Pennsylvania's Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, said from the House floor. "This resolution does not affect the funding levels to carry out the war. And on that point, let me be clear. As long as we have troops in the field of battle and brave Americans in harm's way, I will never vote to withhold their funding."
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, dismissed the debate as a "political exercise." He then queried Democrats, "What's next? What's your plan? It should come as no surprise that the resolution we are debating today says very little."
The Senate is planning to hold an unusual Saturday vote on a similar bill, said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. He wants to keep pace with the House before Congress adjourns for a week-long recess.
House Democrats are hoping to send a strong message to Mr. Bush and the public by winning support from a significant number of Republicans in today's vote.
At least one Pennsylvania Republican, Rep. Phil English of Erie, has said he'll approve the resolution.
Another, Rep. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair, is still undecided. Mr. Murphy faced heavy lobbying this week from VoteVets.org, a veterans group that is critical of the conduct of the Iraq war.
"We had a very professional conversation with Murphy," said Capt. Jon Soltz, the group's chairman , who serves with a reserve unit at the Charles E. Kelly Support Facility in Oakdale, Pa. "I tried to stress that this is the most important vote of his congressional career."
Capt. Soltz didn't take a position on Mr. Murtha's proposals. Neither did several congressman who appeared with the Johnstown congressman at a news conference yesterday, including Rep. Patrick Murphy, a freshman Democrat from the Philadelphia suburbs, who served in Iraq as a paratrooper with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. They all focused on getting as much support as possible for the anti-troop surge resolution.
Yet the debate on funding is likely to intensify quickly. Mr. Murtha yesterday said he expects the issue to be on the House floor by mid-March.Associated Press
Rep. John Murtha
First Published February 16, 2007 12:00 am