- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Congressional Democrats — especially new members — are clamoring for action on the Iraq war, citing polls showing that American voters want to change course, but leaders have delayed significant action.

Senate Democratic leaders announced yesterday that they will postpone for at least another week a debate on war policy, despite efforts by several senators pushing to hold a vote to repeal the 2002 war authorization.

“I would have liked to have done Iraq three weeks ago,” said Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat and one of the freshmen calling for a substantive Iraq debate.

During last week’s recess, Mr. Tester found that people in his home state are irritated that nothing had been done yet on Iraq.

“My guess is [my constituents] are probably as frustrated as I am that we ought to quit debating about whether we are going to debate and let’s debate the issue,” he said. “I wanted to debate the escalation because that’s what the president put on the floor to debate and that was not done. I don’t know why.”

Freshman Sen. Bernard Sanders said Mr. Tester — and other Democrats who grumbled about the lack of debate as they left the Democratic Party’s weekly luncheon yesterday — are not alone in their frustration.

“The American people want us to debate it,” said the Vermont independent, who caucuses with the Democrats. “We’ve got to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can.”

This week, the Senate instead will consider recommendations of the September 11 commission, a bill that passed the House last month. The White House said it will veto the measure if it allows airport screeners to unionize — a move the administration says could delay the agency’s ability to respond quickly to threats.

Republicans said they will try to strip that provision from the bill and, if their efforts fail, then they will support a Bush veto.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he is working with Republican leaders to find the proper time to debate the war. Instead of attaching the 2002 revote to the pending September 11 bill, as several prominent party members wanted, Democrats are still in talks over the best way forward.

Mr. Reid said yesterday that he was persuaded by families of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, who urged quick Senate action on a bill that was not complicated by Iraq amendments.

“There are a number of different ways we can go,” Mr. Reid said. “The deauthorization [is] certainly one. The other is to change the mission, legislatively, of what’s going on there. And we’re working our way through that.”

Mr. Reid would not say what he prefers but noted that the October 2002 resolution authorizing the war did not spell out what is happening in Iraq today.

“We never authorized fighting in a civil war,” he said.

Senate Republicans, who have filibustered Democratic efforts to debate Mr. Bush’s Iraq strategy, said they will fight for a vote on a measure promising continued funding for the troops.

Republican Conference Chairman Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said yesterday that he spoke with military leaders on his recent visit to Iraq and that they think Mr. Bush’s new plan “is showing some early signs of success and can work if it is given an opportunity to work.”

“That’s why I say it’s important that we not allow any kind of congressional action that would tie the hands of General Petraeus and our other commanders in carrying out this mission,” Mr. Kyl said, referring to Gen. David Petraeus.

The House, which passed a nonbinding resolution disapproving of Mr. Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq earlier this month, also will take no action on Iraq this week.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said he is working with his fellow leaders “to determine what we believe is appropriate to offer.”

“We are currently working on suggesting alternatives,” and building a consensus, the Maryland Democrat said early yesterday. “We’re not there. We’re working on that.”

He criticized Republicans who accuse the Democrats of secret plans to cut funding for troops, saying: “That is not going to happen, period.”

After huddling last night for a strategy session on the war, Democratic leaders told reporters what to expect next week when the Appropriations Committee considers Mr. Bush’s supplemental spending request for Iraq. The leaders said they will include language in the supplemental bill attaching conditions to the billions in war spending. The conditions would include ensuring that U.S. troops deployed to Iraq are ready and have the needed equipment and training. The spending bill also would attach benchmarks for the Iraqi government.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s floor time will be dominated by the September 11 commission bill.

The measure aims to beef up intelligence programs, improve security at the nation’s airports and railways, and fund local emergency communications.

The bill would allow Transportation Security Administration screeners at airports to bargain collectively. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday briefed Republican senators and said a unionized screening force would slow down response times to terrorist threats.

“Marines don’t collectively bargain over whether they’re going to wind up, you know, being deployed in Anbar province or in Baghdad,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “We can’t negotiate over terms and conditions of work that goes to the heart of our ability to move rapidly in order to deal with the threats that are emerging.”

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