Monday, April 23, 2007

Big Week Ahead For War Funding Debate

It is the freshman Democrats in Congress who are pushing hardest for legislative restrictions on the president's conduct of the war. That stands to reason, since they were elected specifically to address the concerns of the American people on that issue.

Four years after the fall of Baghdad, as US forces see the highest casualty levels of the war, Congress faces votes this week over the terms under which it will continue to fund the Iraq campaign.

Democrats, who won control of the House and Senate on an election-year promise to wind down America's combat role in Iraq, are scaling back expectations that they can muster enough votes to force President Bush to change course.

But a congressional debate over the matter set for this week, they say, will step up pressure on Iraqi leaders to reach a political settlement that could help end the war – and show that antiwar forces are gaining momentum on Capitol Hill.

At issue is whether lawmakers will set a date for withdrawal of most US armed forces. Last month, the House voted to require Mr. Bush to end a US combat role in Iraq by the end of August 2008. The Senate set a target date five months earlier. Bush says he will veto any bill that includes any such timetable, and Republicans say they have ample votes to uphold that veto. ...

Many Democratic lawmakers say they are flooded with calls from constituents urging them to live up to their campaign promises on the war.

Rep. James Moran (D) of Virginia met over breakfast recently with 30 constituents at the Table Talk Restaurant in Alexandria, Va. They wanted to know why he had voted to support funds for another year of war, after campaigning to end it.

"It's a shame I had to disappoint the people who voted for me, because they are the ones who count in the end. But it was the most definitive statement against this war that the Congress has yet had.... It went as far as we could possibly go and still get 218 votes [for passage]," he says.

The post-veto vote on war funds will be even harder, he predicts. "It will come back and pass as a clean supplemental, but not with my vote."

In the House, 42 Democratic freshmen – who voted unanimously with their leadership in support of the war-funding bill – are the key both to their party's continuing control of the House and to the standoff with the White House over Iraq.

"New members were instrumental in framing the legislation to hold the Bush administration and Iraq government accountable," says Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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