President Bush meets with his incoming CENTCOM commander today. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday "that the United States had no intention of attacking Iran and that any American military efforts against it would be confined to Iraq to disrupt the smuggling of bomb-making materials over the border," the New York Times says. "'For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran,' he said.'"
"House Republican opponents of [Bush's] latest Iraq war plan cut across the GOP's ideological and regional spectrum," notes the Washington Post of today's anticipated vote -- also pointing out that "the lion's share of GOP opponents of the Bush plan come from comfortable to very safe congressional districts," not from marginal districts.
Rep. John Murtha (D) yesterday laid out his proposal for how to stop the troop increase before it's completed, while still maintaining Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pledge not to cut off funding for "troops in the field," NBC's Mike Viqueira reports. Murtha plans to attach strings to Bush's $100 billion war funding bill that will effectively force the Administration to stall the surge. The provisions he proposes include: prohibiting the Pentagon from sending troops back into battle until they've had a year at home after being deployed; prohibiting the Pentagon from extending tours; ending the Pentagon's "stop-loss" policy; and prohibiting the establishment of permanent US military bases in Iraq.
If his measures are enacted, Murtha says, "they won't be able to continue, they won't be able to do the deployment." His defense appropriations subcommittee is the first stop in Congress for Bush's $100 billion request for the remainder of this fiscal year, Viq notes. Murtha says it will be reported out of committee on March 15 and will taken up by the House shortly thereafter.
Republicans went on the attack, claiming that Murtha's plan flies in the face of Democratic leadership's pledge not to cut off funding for troops "in the field," even though the provisions that Murtha laid out would seem to meet the "in the field" criteria. An outpouring of statements from Republican members have decried Democrats' alleged "slow bleed" strategy, a term Democrats have used to refer to how they would seek to narrow the Administration's options on Iraq, but which Republicans are trying to suggest applies to the US troops there.
USA Today says the votes in Congress today and tomorrow will show the limits of the resistance Democrats are willing to put up against Bush's Iraq policy. Both Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi "were cool to [Murtha's] proposal to require soldiers to receive more time at home between deployments and more training before being shipped out... 'The answer is no,' Reid said when asked whether there are any legally binding measures he's prepared to support. Pelosi was non-committal."
The New York Daily News on tomorrow's Senate vote: "Senate Democratic leaders threw a monkey wrench into the campaign plans of a half-dozen presidential candidates yesterday, setting a litmus test vote on Iraq for tomorrow… The campaigns didn't complain out loud, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said not all caucus members were pleased. 'Not everyone,' he said. 'It's hard to get everyone to agree.'"
The Democratic Senate campaign committee plans to start running print ads today in New Hampshire and Oregon attacking GOP Sens. John Sununu and Gordon Smith for their procedural votes against the resolution opposing Bush's troop increase.
Senate Foreign Relations chair Joe Biden announced yesterday that he will "seek to repeal the 2002 congressional authorization for Bush to wage war in Iraq and substitute legislation that would narrow the mission of troops there and begin to bring some home."
The Los Angeles Times takes its turn looking at Democrats' internal struggle to tamp down calls for cutting off funding for the troops.
The New York Times notes that three state legislatures (in California, Iowa, and Vermont) have passed resolutions opposing Bush's policies in Iraq, and another general assembly (in Maryland) sent a letter to its congressional delegation urging them to vote against Bush's troop increase. "Letters or resolutions are being drafted in at least 19 other states. The goal is to embarrass Congress into passing its own resolution and to provide cover for Democrats and Republicans looking for concrete evidence back home that anti-Iraq resolutions enjoy popular support."
"About $10 billion has been squandered by the U.S. government on Iraq reconstruction aid because of contractor overcharges and unsupported expenses, and federal investigators warned Thursday that significantly more taxpayer money is at risk," reports the AP. "The three top auditors overseeing work in Iraq told a House committee their review of $57 billion in Iraq contracts found that Defense and State department officials condoned or allowed repeated work delays, bloated expenses and payments for shoddy work or work never done."