House, Senate Focus Squarely on Iraq

Iraq stirs heated debate on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, a bid to force a vote calling for a withdrawal of troops is rebuffed. House Republicans and Democrats square off over a non-binding resolution to tie the Iraq conflict to the war on terrorism.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Iraq was the subject of heated debate on Capitol Hill yesterday. In the Senate a Republican attempt to force a vote calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops was rebuffed by Democrats. Senators did approve a special funding bill to provide additional money in this year's budget for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the President signed that measure last night.

Meanwhile, members of the House squared off on a non-binding resolution formally defining the war in Iraq as part of the war on terror. Two days of debate ended today with the approval of that resolution. NPR's Don Gonyea has our report.

In its first line, House Resolution 861 declares that the United States will win the global war on terror. It goes on list Iraq as just the latest battle in that war, and it states that it's not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date from redeployment from Iraq. Debate started just after noon yesterday with House Speaker Dennis Hastert setting the tone.

House Speaker DENNIS HASTERT (Republican, Illinois): It is not enough for this House to say we support our troops. To the men and the women in the field in harms way, the statement rings hollow if we don't also say we support their mission.

GONYEA: As for calls by some Democrats for a timeline for withdrawal, Hastert said it would be wrong to quote "cut and run."

House Speaker HASTERT: When our freedom is challenged, Americans do not run.

GONYEA: The first Democrat to speak was John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the decorated former Marine and veteran of both Korea and Vietnam who once supported the war but is now one of its most prominent critics.

Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): All of us agree Iraq's important. But Murtha says the current situation is not acceptable. He cites statistics showing that daily attacks by insurgents are on the rise.

Rep. MURTHA: Fifty-three attacks in 2004. In 2006, 90 attacks a day. That's the way I measure whether there's progress or not progress. The amount of cash paid to families killed or maimed by the operations involving American troops went from five million to 20 million. Now, what does that mean?

GONYEA: Democrats accuse Republicans of playing politics with this resolution, forcing a vote that can be used in this year's mid-term elections to portray Democrats as soft on national security. A recurring theme among Republicans yesterday was that President Bush, by going to war in Iraq, had responded to threats in ways the U.S. neglected to do in the 1990s.

Congressman Michael McCall of Texas...

Representative MICHAEL McCALL (Republican, Texas): They struck the Cobar Towers in 1996, they bombed our embassies in Africa, and they deliberately attacked the USS Cole. Each time we failed to respond. And then came September 11.

GONYEA: Here's Democrat Joseph Crowley.

Representative JOSEPH CROWLEY (Republican, New York): As a New Yorker, and as the only member of this House who lost a relative on 9/11, I am sickened that once again my colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue to try to spin this as an answer to 9/11. When I hear my colleagues continue to talk and say that Iraq is a stop on the war in terrorism, what happened to the first stop? What happened to Osama bin Laden?

GONYEA: Republicans repeatedly pointed out that al-Qaida is in Iraq today. New Mexico Representative Heather Wilson.

Representative HEATHER WILSON (Republican, New Mexico): Terrorists made Iraq a central front in their war. If they could foment civil war, then they could thrive in the chaos and continue their attacks on us.

GONYEA: But Democrats countered that al-Qaida is in Iraq today only because of the war, and because of the way the mission has been mismanaged. Several, including Gary Ackerman of New York, repeatedly accused Republicans of failing in one critical area: oversight.

Representative GARY ACKERMAN (Democrat, New York): This Republican Congress has abdicated that responsibility and continues to whitewash an incompetent, dysfunctional Republican administration. I'd like to be clear, Mr. Speaker. Just because I'm for oversight doesn't mean that I hate freedom.

GONYEA: Passage of the Iraq resolution this morning came as no surprise, given the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. But don't look for that to end the debate or the divisions over the war that seem to grow deeper by the day.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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