House Democratic leaders said Thursday that members will vote next week on a resolution stating opposition to President Bush's decision to send more forces into combat and voicing support for the troops.
House members will also get a chance to vote on a Republican alternative, they said.
The leaders described the vote as the first step of many that will be taken by Democrats to try to force an end to the nearly four-year-old war that has killed more than 3,000 U.S. troops and turned public opinion strongly against the conflict.
At a closed-door meeting of Democrats, leaders reassured lawmakers that next week's symbolic vote would not be the last word, participants said. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs a subcommittee that oversees defense funding, told members he plans to try limiting funding for the deployment of troops in an upcoming bill paying for the war unless they meet high readiness standards.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told the caucus the goal was to end the war, according to participants in the meeting, as she and other leaders assured the rank and file the nonbinding measure was only the first step.
The House Republican leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, told reporters that the "majority of Republicans support the president and his goal of winning in Iraq." But he also acknowledged opposition within the GOP ranks to Bush's decision to add troops, and conceded some lawmakers will vote in favor of the Democratic measure critical of it.
Said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.: "This debate will go forward and the American people will have their representatives for three days to articulate their view on how they want to proceed. That is important I think for the president to hear. It's important for the country to hear, and we will ensure that it is done."
The Democratic leaders said they would take a bare-bones approach to writing the resolution - a tack intended to persuade Republicans to break ranks with the GOP and express their frustration with a war.
The resolution would state opposition to Bush's dispatch of 21,500 more troops to Iraq and voice support for the troops themselves and for enlarging the overall size of the Army and Marines, which the administration has proposed. It is not expected to address the question of whether Congress should limit money for the war.
"This is an up or down vote on the policy enunciated by the president," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. "We owe that to our constituents."
Separating from Senate resolution
The House measure in the works indicates leaders there are moving away from a Senate version backed by Democrats and several Republicans that the GOP blocked on Monday.
That resolution, by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., expresses dissatisfaction with Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq and identifies benchmarks the Iraqi government should meet. It was stalled when it fell 11 votes short of the 60 required to move the debate forward.
House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, has expressed support for an alternative resolution laying out benchmarks to judge whether the Iraqi government is living up to its commitments to help quell the violence, and establishing a bipartisan committee to oversee the war effort.
A group of Senate Republicans said Wednesday they would continue pushing for an Iraq resolution that stalled in the Senate earlier in the week.
Bush's Jan. 10 announcement to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq ignited a firestorm of protests in Congress from Democrats and several Republicans.
"The odds are slim that this change in tactic will improve the security situation in Iraq," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Splintered Senate support
Republican leaders, who are seeking their own alternative measure that would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government, said they anticipate some GOP defections to the nonbinding Democratic resolution.
"I don't think it'll be a pure party-line vote," said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said he wants Congress to express support for recommendations by the independent, bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The group, initiated at Wolf's behest, suggested most U.S. combat troops be withdrawn from Iraq by early 2008, leaving only a small number of forces behind to train the Iraqi security forces and provide logistical support.
"We have seen that the current Iraq policy is not working," Wolf said.
In a bid to attract more GOP support, Warner had added a section promising to protect funding for troops in combat - a promise many House Democrats do not want to make.
Frustrated that Senate leaders could not agree on debate rules for his resolution, Warner and six other Republicans told the leaders in a letter Wednesday that "the current stalemate is unacceptable to us and to the people of this country."
"Despite what has happened earlier this week, we are not going away," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Collins and Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., sided with Democrats in seeking to move ahead on the measure.
Five other Senate Republicans who oppose the troop increase and voted to bottle up the Senate measure signed the letter. They were Sens. Warner, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon and George Voinovich of Ohio.