Iowa's Braley Faces Decision on War Funds

Rep. Bruce Braley, a freshman Democrat from Iowa, ponders a proposal to end funding for the war in Iraq within a year. Braley campaigned for a "fresh start" on Iraq, but is taking a cautious approach on the funding issue.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Supporters of the war in Iraq have frequently made this challenge to the war's opponents:

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): For those who believe that all hope of any success in Iraq is gone, the alternative I think should be to cut off funding.

INSKEEP: That's Senator Joe Lieberman on MORNING EDITION last week. Republicans have said much the same. The presumption is that Democrats would not dare, and most Democrats have not, until now. A couple of leading senators say this week they will sponsor a bill to cut off funding for the war in Iraq within a year.

And this morning we've called one lawmaker who may eventually have to decide what to do. Congressman Bruce Braley is a freshman from Iowa, and he's familiar to many of our listeners because we followed his campaign in 2006. Welcome back to the program.

Representative BRUCE BRALEY (Democrat, Iowa): Thanks, it's great to be back on.

INSKEEP: Congressman, we have a piece of tape of you from the campaign trail last fall on Iowa Public Television.

(Soundbite of Iowa Public Television Broadcast)

Rep. BRALEY: They voted to cut off funding to the war in Kosovo to send a message to a Democratic president, President Clinton. That's what you do in Congress when you hold the power of the purse and the president is not following the wishes of the American people.

INSKEEP: So you suggested during the campaign that you might be willing to cut off funding for the war? Has the time come to use that power?

Rep. BRALEY: Well, I don't think it has yet because we have right now pending in both houses votes that we've taken on a supplemental appropriations bill that provides clear oversight to the president and an increased accountability, with a defined exit strategy?

Those two different versions are going to go to conference committee and we are waiting to see what comes out of that conference committee before we decide what the next move is.

INSKEEP: Well, let's look forward here, though. Each of those versions does have a demand that the president withdraw U.S. troops. The president has said if it reaches his desk in that form, he is going to veto it. And what then?

Rep. BRALEY: Well, then I think the American people are going to be heard because one of the things that this president has refused to do is acknowledge what happened on November 7th and the strong desires of the American people for a new direction in Iraq.

I ran on that premise. I have worked very hard in Congress for a new direction. And the president comes out practically everyday with a veto threat for everything we're considering in the House of Representatives. At some point in time, he is going to have to wake up and face the new reality that he's dealing with in Washington.

INSKEEP: The president has also said there is an old reality. He is still president, he is the only president, he is the commander in chief and you can't micromanage a war. That's what he and his supporters have been saying. Can you give me the strongest argument that you can for cutting off funding for taking that particular step if you have to?

Rep. BRALEY: Well, the strongest argument is because the president's policies in Iraq are failing. The surge strategy that he has outlined isn't working despite comments by leading Republicans to the contrary. Six hundred Iraqi civilians were killed last week. That doesn't sound like a successful strategy under the new surge. That's why the American people had demanded and expect a new direction in Iraq.

INSKEEP: We should mention that we have reached you in your home state of Iowa. You're back during a congressional recess. Have you been meeting with voters?

Rep. BRALEY: I have. I was out yesterday meeting with veterans groups talking about all of the things that we have done in the first 100 days to take care of our veterans and getting feedback from them.

INSKEEP: When you have been talking to voters in recent days, they must throw a lot of different concerns at you. Where would you rank Iraq among their concerns as best as you can tell?

Rep. BRALEY: Oh, I would have to say it's probably number one.

INSKEEP: Number one?

Rep. BRALEY: Yes.

INSKEEP: Not gas prices? Not the economy?

Rep. BRALEY: No.

INSKEEP: Not terrorist attacks in the United States?

Rep. BRALEY: No.

INSKEEP: Iraq is a thing on people's minds.

Rep. BRALEY: That's right.

INSKEEP: Congressman Bruce Braley is a first-term Democrat from Iowa's First District. Congressman, good to talk with you.

Rep. BRALEY: Likewise. It was good talking to you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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