Democrats yesterday touted legislation to guarantee troops time at home between deployments to Iraq.
In the party’s weekly radio address, Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, criticized President Bush for threatening to veto the bill, contending his administration’s policies on troop deployments have weakened the military.
“The president’s surge has sent many of our Army units to Iraq for the second and third time. We are asking our troops to make heroic sacrifices — yet as soon as they return, we rush them back into battle,” said Mrs. Tauscher, author of the bill that passed the House Aug. 2 on a vote of 229-194.
The measure would require that regular military units returning from the war receive at least as much time at home as they spent in Iraq. Reserve units would get a home stay three times as long as they spent in the war zone.
Under the Pentagon’s current policy, active-duty troops typically serve deployments of up to 15 months, with a year at home in between. National Guard and Reserve ground units generally can be called up for as long as two years, to be followed by six years at home.
Mr. Bush’s war adviser, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, said Friday the Pentagon needs to reevaluate deployment lengths.
“Come the spring, some variables will have to change, either the degree to which the American ground forces — the Marines and the Army in particular — are deployed around the world to include Iraq, or the length of time they’re deployed in one tour, or the length of time they enjoy at home,” Gen. Lute said in an interview on National Public Radio.
Mr. Bush complained that Mrs. Tauscher’s bill would put arbitrary constraints on Pentagon commanders. The lawmaker noted, however, that the measure includes waivers enabling the president to disregard the required intervals between troop deployments in the interest of national security.
“If we are honest about wanting to support our troops, there is no better place to start than with the rest and training they require to complete their mission and return home safely,” she said.
In the Senate, similar legislation by Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, won a majority vote of 56-41 in July but fell four short of the 60 votes needed to advance.
The vote on Mrs. Tauscher’s bill shortly before Congress left for its August recess was the latest challenge to Mr. Bush from Democrats aiming to end an unpopular war. Democratic leaders plan to renew the challenge in September, when Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, delivers a long-awaited report on the state of the conflict.
The president vetoed legislation this spring that included a timeline for a troop withdrawal.
Gen. Petraeus told lawmakers visiting Iraq this month that a U.S. presence in Iraq is likely to be needed for another nine to 10 years, said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, who met with the general along with Democratic Rep. Tom Allen of Maine and four House Republicans. Gen. Petraeus has made similar remarks in the past, noting that the question is how many troops would be needed.