On the Hill, All Iraq All the Time
A slew of new reports will keep Congress focused on the war
The sultry dog days of summer may be coming to a close, but in Congress things are just heating up. As lawmakers return this week, they'll be facing a dizzying array of debates, hearings, and votes on Iraq. And the stakes couldn't be much higher. The showdown between the president and Congress over spending and troop withdrawals this fall may well determine the path of America's war effort.
Lawmakers will hold hearings during the week on reports by the Government Accountability Office and an independent commission of military experts. A draft of the GAO report, according to the Washington Post, says Iraq failed to meet all but three of the 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress. Later this month, Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will deliver their long-awaited assessments on the impact of the administration's efforts to bolster security in Iraq over the past year.
Bleak. Democrats are hoping this flood of new appraisals will be so bleak that congressional Republicans will be forced to change course. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid is even worried that the White House will prevent Petraeus from testifying openly. If the president is going to continue to ask taxpayers to spend $10 billion monthly on the war, says Reid, "then those closest to the situation on the ground must give Congress ... a frank and honest account of this war free of White House political spin." The Bush administration has denied that closed-door-only briefings were under consideration.
The White House expects Crocker and Petraeus to say that there are signs of progress in Iraq and that they need more time to build on that progress. President Bush is expected to ask Congress sometime in September for an additional $50 billion in Iraq outlays on top of the $147 billion in supplemental spending he proposed for Iraq and Afghanistan in February. That's separate from the $460 billion in regular defense spending for fiscal year 2008.
Democrats will probably try to add amendments to the supplemental spending bill, including contentious proposals to withdraw troops. House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, may propose an amendment that would require most troops to leave Iraq within six months. Murtha supports immediately ending operations in Iraq but acknowledges that it would very likely take a full year to withdraw most of the 159,000 troops now deployed.
The Senate will chime in with its own debate on the withdrawal of forces. Democrats, who hold a 51-to-49 majority there, must have Republican support to acquire the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. Whether such proposals would win approval—or face a prolonged veto fight with the White House—is unclear. But with GOP Sen. John Warner of Virginia, an influential Armed Services Committee member, now joining a small group of Republicans calling for troop withdrawals, Democrats are hopeful that they may be nearing the votes they need to at least begin the process of bringing U.S. troops home.
This story appears in the September 10, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.