March 13th, 2007 12:16 EST
Major Progress in Congress on Iraq Legislation
Last week, Democrats unveiled a new legislative strategy for bringing an end to the war in Iraq that pushes Congress far in the direction of withdrawing American troops from Iraq.
For the first time, many Senate and House members have endorsed binding legislation to begin a troop withdrawal and, in the case of the House, a mandatory final date to complete the withdrawal.
The congressional debate now revolves around the question when to withdraw, not whether to withdraw.
The House bill establishes a firm timeline that would begin troop redeployment as early as July 2007 but no later than March 1, 2008, and mandates that all U.S. troops be out of Iraq by August 31, 2008 – though perhaps even earlier.
The Senate bill requires withdrawal to begin no later than four months after enactment of the legislation and contains a softer “goal” of redeploying most American troops by March 31, 2008 – the same date established by the Baker-Hamilton Commission.
The Senate is expected to vote this week and the House next week.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will offer a motion on Wednesday, March 14 to begin debate on his measure on troop withdrawal. However, because 60 votes are needed to approve this motion and most Republicans appear likely to vote “no” as they have twice before, the motion is expected to fail.
The House bill will go through mark-up in the Appropriations Committee this week, with House floor action expected the week of March 19.
Setting a timetable for withdrawal is a policy popular with the American public. A USA Today-Gallup poll released March 8 found that 60 percent of respondents favored setting a timeline for removing all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2008.
A congressionally-imposed date certain for redeployment of American troops from an overseas conflict is a strategy with strong historical precedents. In 1971, Congress adopted the so-called Mansfield Amendment to set “a final date for the withdrawal from Indochina of all military forces of the United States.”
In 1983, the Multinational Force in Lebanon Resolution forced President Ronald Reagan to seek congressional reauthorization if he wanted to keep U.S. forces in Lebanon longer than 18 months.
While not all Democrats have endorsed the proposals, there are strong indications that Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Harry Reid have unified most of the Democrats behind these proposals.
Republican leaders, on the other hand, have declared their firm opposition to the new legislation, although some Republicans may vote for them nonetheless. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) labeled the new Democratic plan a “roadmap for terrorists” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also declared his opposition. Meantime, Bush Administration officials have threatened a veto: “It would unnecessarily handcuff our generals on the ground, and it’s safe to say it’s a nonstarter for the President,” senior White House adviser Dan Bartlett said of the Democrats’ plan. “Obviously, the administration would vehemently oppose and ultimately veto any legislation that looks like what was described today.”
Summary and analysis of the House and Senate proposals is included below.
House Bill - “U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act”
The legislative vehicle for the House bill will be the $100 billion plus emergency supplemental measure that funds ongoing U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill includes a phased deadline for redeploying U.S. combat forces from Iraq. These deadlines are connected to the Iraqi government’s ability to meet specific benchmarks spelled out by President Bush in his speech announcing the troop escalation on January 10. These benchmarks include:
=Taking responsibility for security in all of Iraq’s provinces by November 2007;
= Passing legislation to share oil revenue among all Iraqis;
=Spending $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs;
=Holding provincial elections later in 2007;
=Reforming de-Baathification laws; and
=Establishing a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.
By July 1, 2007, President Bush must certify that Iraqis are making progress on benchmarks; if the President fails to do this or he reports that Iraqis are not making progress, U.S. troop withdrawal begins immediately and is to be completed within 180 days.
By October 1, 2007, assuming progress was reported in July, the President must certify that Iraqis have fully met all benchmarks; if the President fails to do this or he reports that Iraqis haven’t fully met all benchmarks, U.S. troop withdrawal begins immediately and is to be completed within 180 days.
By March 1, 2008, regardless of Iraqi progress on benchmarks, U.S. troop withdrawal begins immediately and is to be completed within 180 days. Thus even if the President reports progress on meeting the benchmarks, the legislation requires all U.S. combat forces to leave Iraq except for a residual force responsible for diplomatic protection, counterterrorism operations, and training Iraqi Security Forces.
The Supplemental Appropriations bill also will probably include a provision authored by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) stipulating that troop deployments can not be extended past 165 days, soldiers have to be stationed at home in the U.S. for at least one year before returning for an additional tour of duty and the troops have to be properly trained and equipped to be “fully mission capable.” However, there is waiver authority allowing the President to deploy “unprepared troops” if he can certify to Congress, in writing, that deploying these troops is in the American national interest.
Senate Resolution - “United States Policy in Iraq Resolution of 2007”
The Senate bill was officially introduced on March 8 by Reid as S.J. Res. 9 and has 42 cosponsors.
The Senate bill calls on the President to commence the phased redeployment of U.S. combat personnel no later than 120 days after the date of enactment and designates March 31, 2008, as the “goal” for completing phased redeployment.
The Senate bill would transform the U.S. military mission in Iraq to protecting U.S. personnel and infrastructure, training Iraq Security Forces, and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations.