Congress Likely to Leave Iraq Votes for September

House appropriator John Murtha has proposed an amendment to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in 60 days. But House leaders likely will put off that divisive debate until September to maximize support for passing other high-profile bills before the August break.

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Members of Congress leave town this weekend for a month-long recess, so they're racing through a stack of bills - everything from an ethics overhaul to more health coverage for children. The war in Iraq remains the nation's top concern, and Democrats are being pressured by their constituents to force an end to it. Still, it appears House Democrats are not going to push the issue.

As NPR's David Welna reports, they are not likely to try to attach antiwar amendments to the annual defense spending bill.

DAVID WELNA: Because it's considered must-pass legislation, the gigantic bill funding the Pentagon makes a fat target for amendments that might never become law on their own. That's why there was a lot of buzz on Capitol Hill this past week about a proposal being floated by John Murtha, the Democratic chairman of the Defense Appropriation Subcommittee. Murtha sought to pick up Republican support by omitting any end date for troop pull outs and simply requiring they begin within 60 days of the bill's passage. Murtha's watered-down proposal did not impress such staunch antiwar Democrats as Washington State's Jim McDermott.

Representative JIM McDERMOTT (Democrat, Washington): I'm sorry, John's putting something like that forward, actually, because I don't think it really adds to the debate. I think it just kind of muddles the issue and gives some people cover. They'll hold it up and saying they did something. And others, like me, realize it isn't going to do anything.

WELNA: But according to Illinois Republican Ray LaHood, who's on the Appropriations Committee, Murtha, who was not available for comment, no longer intends to add troop withdrawals to the spending bill.

Representative RAY LAHOOD (Republican, Illinois): He pretty much told me that there would be no Iraq-related amendments or language in this bill. And I take him and his word on that.

WELNA: LaHood says while fellow Republicans realize they face reelection battles next year, they don't feel then need to take a stand against the war -at least not yet.

Rep. LAHOOD: The war is the defining issue. It's going to be the defining issue in most of these campaigns. I think most members on the Republican side are going to be able to tell their constituents in August, we're going to wait until General Petraeus comes back and gives us a report the middle of September.

WELNA: Which is why Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen says it's no use trying at this point to broaden the vote against the war.

Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland): The fact of the matter is until we have enough Republicans join us in trying to change the direction in Iraq rather than what they're doing now, which is voting in lockstep with the White House, it's going to be very difficult for us to change that outcome here in the House. But we are determined to keep pushing and we're looking for alternative ways to keep pushing.

WELNA: What House Democrats have settled on doing before leaving town is simply reviving a measure that got filibustered last month in the Senate. Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel says it would require U.S. troops in Iraq be given as much time back home as they've spent in Iraq.

Representative RAHM EMANUEL (Democrat, Illinois): Basically, that's if they're there for 15 months, they get 15 months back here at home. We're clearly going do that.

WELNA: And that leaves antiwar Democrats like Jim McDermott feeling frustrated.

Rep. McDERMOTT: We can do something symbolic here in the middle of the night and the last day we're here before we go home through the month of August. It will have no practical effect on what happens.

WELNA: But by keeping Iraq amendments off the defense bill, its quick passage is virtually assured. That could bolster the image Democrats desire of being tough on defense, while making it more likely their summer break won't be delayed.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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