MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Congress has returned from a weeklong recess, hoping to answer the question what next on Iraq. Before the recess, the House approved a non-binding resolution disapproving of the surge in U.S. forces in Iraq. Some Democrats, led by Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, want to attach conditions to a supplemental spending bill the House takes up next month.
But as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, other Democrats are expressing doubts about that approach.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Democrat Brad Ellsworth thought it was a bit soon to be taking a vacation, having just been sworn in as a freshman Congressman last month. So Ellsworth returned to his Indian Congressional District last week and held some town meetings, some two dozen of them, he says, to hear from his constituents. The number one thing on their minds, Ellsworth reports, was Iraq.
BRAD ELLSWORTH: It's run the gamut, but I would say there is frustration in everybody's voice and their eyes on how things are going, just an unsure and not knowing what the next course is, and how we're going to bring this to a successful conclusion.
NAYLOR: Democrats in Congress would like nothing more than to bring Iraq to a successful conclusion. But what Congress can do about Iraq is anything but clear. Some Democrats in the Senate want to rewrite the authorization lawmakers gave President Bush in 2002 to go to war in Iraq. In the House, the focus is on the $100 billion supplemental spending bill to fund the war for the rest of the fiscal year.
The chairman of the south committee that gets first crack at the measure, Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania, has outlined a proposal to attach conditions to the money, related to troop readiness levels. But other Democrats have begun voicing concerns about Murtha's approach. Jim Matheson of Utah is a leader of the conservative Blue Dogs Democrats.
JIM MATHESON: We got to make very real careful here, when you got troops on the ground that you are not, in an unintended way possibly, putting them at greater risk, and creating problems for them that they otherwise wouldn't have.
NAYLOR: Matheson says Congress should focus on its oversight rule rather than attempting to legislate an end to the war.
MATHESON: There's a lot Congress can do outside the supplemental appropriations bill, in terms of making sure that our troops are being taken cared off right, making sure all the options on the table for a strategy in Iraq are put out there too. I think that the committee process, the oversight process provide those venues.
NAYLOR: Freshman Democrat Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania ran last November as an ardent opponent of the Iraq War. But while the retired admiral calls Murtha a leader on the issue, he nonetheless differs with his approach.
JOE SESTAK: When Congress begins to get on what I - might be more operational level, I am wary of that. I am wary because Congress tends to be a blunt instrument. And there can be unknown, unintended unknown consequences and ramifications when you begin to get on and legislate on operational level issues.
NAYLOR: Sestak believes Congress should forget about attaching conditions to a spending bill, and instead set a firm date for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, a stance that points to the wide array of use within Democratic ranks that have so far kept the new majority from reaching a consensus.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, The Capitol.
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