After days of intense and emotional debate, the House, as expected, has passed a non-binding resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to deploy more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq. The final tally was 246-182. However, only 17 Republicans broke ranks with the President to support the Democratic resolution. (Two Democrats sided with the Republicans.) The Republican vote in favor of the resolution was significantly lower than the 30 or more that Democratic leaders had been expecting–and that Republicans had been fearing–as recently as 24 hours ago.
Republican sources tell me that wavering members moved back into line after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday signaled her support for a move by Congressman John Murtha, the war opponent who chairs the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, to put restrictions on the additional Iraq money that Bush is expected to request next month. Specifically, Murtha’s proposal would require that troops be given at least a year’s rest between combat deployments–which Murtha himself has said would make it all but impossible for Bush to find the personnel he needs to carry out his “surge” strategy.
In other words, Democratic leaders say they are ready to move from symbolism to action, by using the power of the purse that is Congress’ only real means of limiting the Commander-in-Chief’s ability to wage war. Republicans say Pelosi and the Democrats are overstepping. “The troop funding debate is a debate the Republicans are going to win,” says one GOP strategist.
Next, the action moves to the Senate, where a vote is expected tomorrow on a non-binding resolution similar to the one that passed the House today. Democrats there are pessimistic that they will have the 60 votes they need to overcome a filibuster, especially after Ohio Republican George Voinovich announced that he would not be voting with them. (Voinovich said the vote could be misinterpreted “by our enemies as abandoning Iraq.”) However, Democrats insist that with polls showing strong majorities opposing the surge strategy, the real losers will be the Republicans. “In the end, they are at odds with the American people,” says Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “They have made their bed, and they are going to lie in it.”
Manley also told me that the Senate will return to the Iraq issue in a week or so, when it debates legislation implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. He says that Democrats will not be pushing a symbolic measure, but rather, “actual legislation designed to affect Administration policy.” However, he would not spell out precisely what that would entail, saying only that Democratic leaders are considering a variety of alternatives that individual Senators have proposed.
UPDATE: Good catch from commenter Jerry Owens. Harry Reid is indeed the MAJORITY Leader. Jerry, would you like a job on the TIME copy desk? By the way, here’s a profile I wrote of MAJORITY Leader Harry Reid not too long ago. Note the flashpoint between him and McCain near the end of the story. I think this friction–yes, in the Senate, some things are also personal–is at least part of what is playing out in McCain’s decision to skip the Senate vote today and then declare the whole exercise a “political stunt” by Reid (See my post above this one). Keep an eye on the Reid-McCain relationship going forward.