House Passes Vacation Bill for Iraq Troops

The House passes a measure sponsored by Democrats requiring that regular U.S. troops spend as much time on home leave as they have spent in Iraq. Republicans call it a disguised plan to force troop cuts. Meanwhile, Sens. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry ask the Pentagon to brief Congress on contingency plans for withdrawal.


In Congress, House Democrats scored another legislative victory today in their effort to challenge President Bush on the Iraq war. In a near party-line vote, they passed a bill that would increase required rest times for troops between deployments. The White House responded with a veto threat. Other politically charged, but mostly symbolic Iraq votes, are expected before lawmakers head back to their districts this weekend for a month-long recess.

NPR's David Welna is at the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA: House Democrats today were responding to two things. First, and more broadly, to pressure from constituents to keep doing something to end the Iraq war. Second, and more specifically, to the Pentagon's recent policy of stretching active-duty troop deployments in Iraq to 15 months with only 12 months of downtime between tours. The Democrats' so-called rest and readiness bill would make home leave time equal that of combat duty for active-duty troops and three times longer for Army Reserve and National Guard troops. It got a strong endorsement from the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton.

Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri; Chairman, House Armed Services Committee): The stretching and straining of the ground forces, in particular the Army, will have a breaking point. Why stretch these young people? Why not bring them home? This is a reasonable proposal.

WELNA: The question posed to House members by the bill's lead sponsor, California Democrat Ellen Tauscher, was who do they stand for?

Representative ELLEN TAUSCHER (Democrat, California): Do you stand for military planners or other members of the Pentagon who have the executive branch to speak for them? Or do you stand with the American people, the families of our troops and the troops themselves?

WELNA: Duncan Hunter, the Armed Services panel's top Republican, replied that he stands for the troops, but troops who can count on having a full contingent at their sides, rather than one that's depleted by obligatory rest times.

Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): The worst thing you can do, Ms. Tauscher, for my son who's on his third deployment or anybody else's son, is to take away that gunnery sergeant or that senior NCO or that expert who can stand by their side and help them to survive in this very dangerous war-fighting theater.

WELNA: Republicans also branded the bill a backhanded effort to force a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Here's California's Buck McKeon.

Representative HOWARD McKEON (Republican, California): The true intent of this legislation is obvious. There are mandates that only apply to the U.S. forces committed to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Afghanistan, another active theater in this war against terror, is not even mentioned.

WELNA: And Georgia's Phil Gingrey used the talking point GOP lawmakers heading home are being advised to make, that things in Iraq are actually getting better.

Representative PHIL GINGREY (Republican, Georgia): All of this comes, unfortunately, during a time when we are just now starting to see marked progress, and the momentum is swinging in our favor in Iraq.

WELNA: In the end, just six Republicans joined all but three House Democrats in voting for the bill. But legislation faces not only a veto threat, but dim prospects as well in the Senate, where similar legislation was filibustered last month. Democrats plan several other Iraq-related votes before leaving town, even as they admit the real showdown on Iraq likely won't come until September.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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