From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi
The return of Congress means we're back to Iraq, with Democratic lawmakers in both chambers wrestling over whether and how to curtail President Bush's authority in pursuing military action there. Some Senate Democrats want to repeal the 2002 war resolution and replace it with one that's narrower in scope; some House Democrats want to tie funding for the war to troop readiness. A suicide bomber's attempted attack on Vice President Cheney earlier today also will direct Washington's attention to the situation in Afghanistan.
In the House, NBC's Mike Viqueira advises, Iraq is percolating mainly behind the scenes while members focus publicly this week on matters of concern to business and labor. The House will consider reforming the way the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States -- remember the Dubai Ports World controversy? -- conducts it reviews, and also a hotly contested bill that would facilitate union organizing. The war, by contrast, is causing more private hemming and hawing and Democrats ponder what to do about Rep. John Murtha's proposal to tie Bush's $100 billion supplemental funding request to US troop readiness.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is standing behind some of Murtha's proposals, Viq notes, including having troops stay home for at least a year between deployments and limiting their time in Iraq to a year. Murtha asserts that these measures would effectively end Bush's troop increase.
House Republicans have greeted the Murtha proposal as a political gift, Viq says. Many credit its arguably premature debut -- Murtha announced it on a liberal website -- as a galvanizing force that kept the number of GOP defections on the resolution denouncing a troop increase to a mere 17, after predictions had run as high as 50 or 60. They characterize it as a "slow-bleed" strategy that would deny much-needed reinforcements to beleaguered troops in the thick of combat. Democrats argue that the proposal does just the opposite, ensuring that the troops will receive the training and materiel necessary to maintain maximum force protection. The coming debate will be a struggle by each side to define the plan.
The supplemental is due out of committee in two weeks and expected to hit the floor sometime later in March. House Democrats essentially face a choice of whether or not to push ahead with Murtha's plan, despite the significant chance that it might tear apart their caucus and wouldn't even pass, Viq explains. If they push ahead, they might be able to demonstrate to those within their ranks that the votes for passage simply aren't there. But would it be worth it?
Democratic leaders have talked of an incremental, step-by-step approach to opposing Bush on the war, an approach that emphasizes consensus. Ramming the Murtha plan through over the objections of moderate Democrats would amount to abandoning that strategy, and for what? Senate Democrats appear unwilling to entertain Murtha's plan. In the end, if you're Pelosi, you don't put something on the floor that you know is going to go down in defeat. So they simply have to decide if they can muscle the plan through. And if they can, is it worth it? As Viq says, you don't ask your people to take a tough vote when you know it's all going to be for naught.
In the Senate, Democratic leaders are undertaking a more public effort to muster support among their own ranks, as well as from some Republicans, for binding legislation that would repeal the 2002 war authorization. Senate Foreign Relations chair Joe Biden and Armed Services chair Carl Levin are spearheading the effort that would limit US troop involvement and redeploy most combat forces by March 2008. NBC's Ken Strickland reports that while it's unclear when the measure would come up for a vote, it's almost certain -- at this point, at least -- that Democrats won't meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome GOP opposition.
There could be some action on it as early as this week, attached to homeland security legislation now on the floor. But after coming off a week-long recess, Strick advises, both sides want to strategize within their own caucuses to assess how and when to move forward. Those caucus meetings take place this afternoon.
And in Chicago today, Mayor Richard M. Daley seems poised to win a sixth term, putting him on track to break his father's record of length of service, provided he's still in the office in 2010.