Dem exit strategy is for late ’08

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced a plan yesterday to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2008, and quite possibly sooner, as she tried to balance competing interests in her own party and win over enough Republicans to make up for potential losses in her own caucus.

“We want to get our troops out of Iraq safely, responsibly and soon,” said Pelosi, standing at a morning announcement with House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) and Defense Appropriations subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.). “And we should not be sending our troops into battle without proper training and equipment.”

Criticism came swiftly from liberal Democrats who feel the withdrawal is too slow and cautious: Out of Iraq Caucus members started their news conference to criticize the plan while Pelosi was still presenting it to the Democratic Caucus. Caucus member Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that calls for a troop withdrawal by the end of this year.

“We want our troops home with their families by Christmas,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.)
Republican leaders were even harsher in their criticism of Pelosi’s Iraq supplemental spending bill, calling it a “vote for failure” that lacks the support to pass.

 “Republicans are not going to vote to tie the hands of our generals and our troops on the ground and slowly bleed the resources away from them,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Arbitrary timelines that are in this bill do nothing more than signal to the enemy what the strategy is.”

The final deadline for troop withdrawal under the supplemental is Jan. 31, 2008. But if President Bush cannot certify that Iraq has met certain political benchmarks, the plan says withdrawal could start as early as July of this year.

“I don’t know if [Democratic critics of the bill] fully understand, that unless there’s a dramatic change on the ground in Iraq, under this plan, we would be out by the end of the year,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who predicted that the Democratic leadership can get the votes to pass the bill.

The House’s $95.5 billion war supplemental also would require a year’s rest for Army units, barring a presidential waiver; block deployment of any unit not assessed “fully mission-capable,” barring a presidential waiver; prohibit the United States from going to war with Iran without congressional authorization; block the creation of permanent bases in Iraq; and ban torture.

It provides $1 billion more than the Bush request for Afghanistan and $1.7 billion more than the White House request for healthcare for returning veterans. The bill also includes money for base closure, port security, border security, Hurricane Katrina recovery and children’s health insurance.

Such add-ons are causing heartburn for more conservative Blue Dog Coalition Democrats, even though much of the spending would go to the rural areas they represent. “The Iraq supplemental is too serious to load up,” said Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.). “We think that muddies up the water.”

The party’s most liberal members are demanding a much faster withdrawal and question the plan’s reliance on President Bush’s word.

 “President Bush has learned nothing from Vietnam,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). “Now the question is, has Congress learned anything from Vietnam?”

But Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), a member of the Progressive and Out of Iraq caucuses, said his colleagues on the left should realize that not passing a Democratic plan could mean simply staying the course.

 “They need to evolve in the right direction,” Hinchey said. “If we do not have a piece of legislation, the alternative will be to pass a clean supplemental. Then you’re giving the administration a blank check.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who co-chairs the Out of Iraq Caucus, said liberal members are committed to working with the leadership, but doesn’t think the bill can be passed without their support.

 “We are reasonable, intelligent legislators,” Waters said. “We are absolutely intent on working with the leaders.”
She said that the Out of Iraq Caucus members who serve on the Appropriations Committee will offer Lee’s fast-withdrawal amendment when the panel votes next week. No specific date has been set for the committee vote. Leaders say they expect to bring it to the floor the following week.

When asked about allowing a vote on the Lee amendment once the vote comes to the floor, Pelosi said, “I don’t know what purpose that would serve.”

The liberal opposition within the caucus presents a challenge that Pelosi and her lieutenants have two weeks to sort out. If Republicans stick together, Democrats can’t pass the bill if more than 15 of their colleagues defect.
Pelosi could offset the defections in her own caucus with Republican votes, starting with the 17 who voted last month for the non-binding resolution opposing President Bush’s increase in troop levels.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), an outspoken war critic, said he liked the basic idea of the Democratic plan.
“I like what has been proposed,” Jones said. “But I have to see the details.”

But Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), who also voted for the Democrats’ resolution, said he was highly skeptical of what he had heard of the supplemental spending bill.

“I think it’s a terrible mistake to deny the president the flexibility to respond to changing conditions,” said English. “If we are going to do something that is binding on the commander in chief ...  I don’t think that it’s a viable option.”

For his part, Murtha said that Republicans may have a tough time voting against a bill that provides the funding for troops in Iraq.

“They have a responsibility to the troops as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders released a binding resolution calling for redeployment from Iraq to begin by the end of March 2008, coupled with new diplomatic engagement and preserving troops for counter-terrorism and training missions.