Iraq update and action alert

 In Action Alert, Iraq

Around the time that Congress passed the omnibus spending bill, encompassing the budgets of several government agencies, they also passed an additional $70 billion to fund the war in Iraq for part of 2008. Because they allotted “only” $70 billion, rather than the $190 billion the Bush administration had initially asked for, they will need to revisit funding for the war in the spring. In our lobby visits in Washington, DC last month, we urged members of Congress to oppose any funding for the occupation of Iraq that is not tied to a timeline for withdrawal.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, is crafting a war funding bill that will be ready by the end of February and could be voted on in March.  Murtha is now saying that the bill will include money the Pentagon needs, but will also demand that US troops be out of Iraq by the end of the year. Some members of Congress are arguing that the military has enough money to last until April, and they want to wait until Gen. David Petraeus testifies to Congress before making decisions on additional war funding.

As we approach tragic landmarks in the war in Iraq—the fifth anniversary on March 19th and what will soon be the 4000th US death—this week’s Roll Call (subscription only) is reporting that the Senate will hold two cloture votes on Iraq on February 25 (updated sources show the actual date is February 26):

Meanwhile, with the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq approaching in March, Democrats have to decide how hard they will push to force a change in direction before giving Bush another massive war spending bill.

The war has been overshadowed recently by the presidential race and the shaky economy, but it remains a potent and polarizing issue, playing roles in primary defeats last week of Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), who was excoriated for voting for the war at the start, and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), whose votes against the war riled conservatives.

Hoyer has counseled fellow Democrats against more confrontations that use spending bills as leverage to force timetables for withdrawal, but frustrated anti-war Democrats will not be satisfied with that approach.

Even before the supplemental, Democrats in both chambers are planning to hold votes on measures aimed at forcing the redeployment of troops, although Republicans almost certainly will be able to block them from reaching the president’s desk.

Senate Democrats are planning to vote on a cloture motion Feb. 25 on a bill sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to set a timeline for withdrawing combat troops. Democrats also are planning a cloture motion on a second Feingold bill, which would require the Bush administration to develop strategies to limit repeated deployments of troops and defeat al-Qaida.

House Democrats appear likely to hold similar votes to reinforce their point that Republicans are the reason the war continues.

“What better time to distinguish the difference between the Republicans and the president and the Democrats than on the fifth anniversary of the war?” asked a senior House Democratic aide. “There are still going to be 150,000 troops there … with no exit strategy.”

It is good to see that the Senate is not waiting to take action and will push for a timeline for withdrawal. Click here to write to your senators and urge them to vote in favor of Sen. Feingold’s bill.

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