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Hill Democrats Unveil New Plans for Iraq

Two proposals to set specific dates for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq are now on the table in Congress.

But some House Democrats want even more decisive action than a plan proposed Thursday. And Senate Republicans say they will block the bill offered in their chamber.

Before Thursday, House Democrats had struggled for weeks to come up with something showing they understood the main message of the 2006 election to be "get U.S. troops out of Iraq."

They settled on a plan to use President Bush's request for nearly $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to leverage a change in Iraq policy.

Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to maximize party support with the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act. The measure would increase veterans' health-care spending by $3.5 billion, set a September 2008 deadline for getting troops out of Iraq, and present a series of benchmarks that Congress would require President Bush to meet.

Ultimately, the bill calls "for the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq so that we can focus more fully on the real war on terror, which is in Afghanistan," Pelosi said.

The plan also demands that troops be adequately trained and equipped before being deployed to Iraq — though it lets the president waive that requirement. That did not go over well with the more than 70 members of the Out of Iraq Caucus.

It has waivers, exceptions, ands, ifs, ares, and buts, all of which appear to leave the determination over our future in Iraq exclusively in the hands of the decider, or the misleader," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat.

The plan was pummeled by Republicans, as well.

"It would unnecessarily handcuff our generals on the ground," presidential adviser Dan Bartlett told reporters. "It's safe to say it's a non-starter for the president."

House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, was equally caustic.

"By establishing and telegraphing to our enemy arbitrary time lines for withdrawal, Democrats are mandating failure," he said. "Arbitrary timelines are little more then a roadmap for the terrorists, a tool they'll use to plot their maneuvers against American men and women in uniform."

Meanwhile, the Senate Democrats' proposal calls for troop redeployments from Iraq to begin within four months of the law's passage, and sets an earlier target date — April 2008 — for a near-total withdrawal of troops.

That was enough to win over such outspoken war opponents as Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, who refused to back earlier non-binding resolutions.

"For the first time, it has a timetable in place, as I called for in August of 2005," he said. "It's not as early as I would like, but is a timetable, not only to begin to get the troops out, but to get the troops out except for very limited purposes."

But Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the chamber's Republican leader, would not agree to debate the proposal next week, even though Democrats would permit three Republican proposals to be considered, as well.

"I don't think we ought to say to our troops in the middle of this new mission that we're not gonna support them," McConnell said. "And that's what this is all about. We'll get back to the Iraq debate in due time, and members on my side of the aisle will be happy to engage. We think this is clearly the most important issue in the country."

Democrats in both chambers know a presidential veto likely awaits any mandates they'd pass to pull U.S. soldiers out of Iraq. They hope what matters most to anti-war constituents is that they tried.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.