MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The debate over the war in Iraq continues on Capitol Hill. But one thing has become clear: The Democrats are unwilling to take the politically untenable step of cutting off funding.
Today, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee announced that his panel will take up legislation next week to keep funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House wants $93 billion for the current fiscal year on top of the $70 billion already approved by Congress.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: In the House, Democrats are talking about adding equipment, training and rest requirements for troop deployments to Iraq. Their Senate counterparts are talking about redefining the scope of the U.S. mission in Iraq. There's little talk though of cutting funding, unless, of course, you're listening to Republicans like Texas Senator John Cornyn.
Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle feel so strongly, as some of them clearly do, about the conflict in Iraq, then they have an obligation, I believe, to cut off funding.
WELNA: Republicans are practically daring Democrats to cut funding, but he majority party's leaders are not taking the bate. Here's Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talking with reporters last night.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Republican, California; Speaker of the House): Let me be clear, we will fund the troops as long as they are in harm's way.
WELNA: Like Pelosi, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin voted more than four years ago against authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq. Still, in his speech yesterday on the Senate floor, Durbin vowed he'll keep funding that war.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois; Senate Majority Whip): Though we may disagree with the policy, we can't put the burden of what we consider bad policy on the backs of our soldiers. We cannot shortchange them in any way in battle, even if we disagree with the battle plan of the commander in chief. And so I voted, not for $1 billion, not for $100 billion, but hundreds of billions of dollars for this war that I think is the wrong war.
WELNA: To make political sense in such reasoning, says Carleton College congressional expert Steven Schier, you have to consider that in recent polls, a majority of American's oppose the war in Iraq but they also oppose cutting off funds for the war.
Professor STEVEN SCHIER (Political Science, Carleton College): Democrats do not want to take ownership of this war in any way, because, you know, we can see what that's done to the political fortunes of President George Bush. And the way to do that, at this point, given what the public is thinking as well, is to express disapproval of the policy symbolically in a variety of ways, keep talking about that disapproval in order to satisfy your base. But when it comes to hard restrictions on spending, don't do it now and don't talk about it.
WELNA: Still there are some Democrats who say it makes no sense to approve funding that keeps U.S. troops in harm's way. One who wants to cut war funding is Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): Nobody's going to leave them stranded. What we want to do - many of us want to do is bring them back here where they can be saved and be with their families.
WELNA: That point was underscored by Marine Sergeant Leo Madden at a recent rally outside the Capitol. Madden's one of several active duty Iraq combat veterans who demanded lawmakers cut off funds for the war.
Sergeant LEO MADDEN (U.S. Marine): We will not tolerate the rhetoric that we must support the troops by funding a war that puts them in harm's way. You're funding a war that puts them in harm's way. You are not supporting them. You're endangering their lives, for a war that cannot be justified, has not been justified and will not work.
WELNA: So far, only a minority of Democrats endorsed the Marine sergeant's plea, but enough to leave those in control of Congress divided over how to get out of Iraq.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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