House Democrats, in their latest challenge to Bush administration war policy, voted on Thursday to limit how quickly American troops can be sent back to Iraq after serving a rotation there.
The House voted 229-194 in favor of legislation requiring that active-duty members of the military get at least as much time at home as they served in Iraq before being sent back. Members of the Reserve or National Guard would qualify for at least three times as much time at home as they spent in Iraq.
The measure, opposed by the administration, is unlikely to make it through Congress. Senate Republicans blocked a similar proposal last month. But Democrats wanted to take at least one more vote expressing their dissatisfaction with the way the war is being conducted. Democrats said the measure was a response to the Bush administration’s decision to quickly send units back to Iraq in order to provide the forces needed for its troop buildup, a decision that Democrats said was straining the military, hurting morale and destabilizing military families.
Republicans said the bill represented congressional meddling in what should be a purely military matter and would make it more difficult for the military command to identify troops available for combat.
“The question for the members of the House is, ‘Who do you stand for?’” asked Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., who was the bill’s chief sponsor. “Do you stand for military planners or other members of the Pentagon who have the executive branch to speak for them? Or do you stand with the American people, the families of our troops and the troops themselves?”
Republicans said that the proposal could put undue burden on troops already in Iraq if replacements could not be found because of the rotation requirements, and that it could keep experienced noncommissioned officers off the battlefield, to the detriment of green troops who could benefit from their guidance.
“This is a war of specialties,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “We have to have experience.”
Democratic leaders on Thursday were weighing whether to bring another Iraq-related measure to the floor before breaking for the monthlong August recess. The proposal, which has bipartisan support, would direct the administration to deliver within 60 days a plan for reducing the forces in Iraq. A similar proposal was introduced on Thursday in the Senate by three Democratic senators: Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California.
“Withdrawing troops from Iraq will be dangerous and difficult, and we must oversee the Bush administration as the Constitution demands and that four years of mistakes and mismanagement in Iraq require,” Clinton said.
The House leadership had initially decided to hold off on voting on the bill until September, with some lawmakers arguing that it could provide Republicans with a vote to point to as calling for a change in Iraq policy when they had refused to support any withdrawal plans.