Democratic leaders are taking an all-or-nothing approach on Iraq, a tack that leaves its members empty-handed for now but keeps the party in lockstep with demands by anti-war groups.
At the end of the month, lawmakers were expected to break for their August recess without passing veto-proof legislation that would significantly challenge President Bush's Iraq policies. Such a feat would have required Democrats to soften their stance or compromise with Republicans &
something anti-war groups don't want them to do and a move party leaders have shown no interest in.
"Our goal is the total political collapse of support for Bush's war," said Tom Matzzie, the Washington director for the anti-war group MoveOn.org, which rose to prominence in last year's elections. "And this August gives us an even better opportunity to achieve that."
Earlier this month, the House voted 223-201 to order troops out of Iraq beginning in 120 days. But the bill stalled in the Senate, where Democrats hold a thinner majority and Republicans blocked the measure from advancing.
Instead of embracing bipartisan alternatives, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped the Iraq debate altogether. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned her attention to other war-related Democratic bills.
The House is expected to pass a bill Wednesday by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., that would ban permanent bases in Iraq. week's end, the House Armed Services Committee planned to draft legislation for a vote next week that would insist troops be given sufficient time at home in between combat tours.
Left on the cutting room floor are several bipartisan proposals that could challenge Bush on Iraq and which have attracted GOP support.
Among them is a House proposal that would require Bush to deliver within 60 days a new military strategy that would end major combat and refocuses troops on fighting terrorists.
Pennsylvania Republican Phil English swung behind the proposal on Tuesday, joining a mix of conservative and liberal Democratic co-sponsors: Reps. John Tanner of Tennessee, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, Ellen Tauscher of California, Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts, Kendrick Meek of Florida, Jim Costa of California and Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania.
Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and John Warner, R-Va., support a similar proposal.
Despite the momentum such legislation might have among GOP members, Democratic leaders haven't shown any interest in making sure it gets a vote. Anti war-groups say the plan is much too mild because it wouldn't require Bush to implement the new strategy.
"They let Bush do whatever he wants," Matzzie said. "That isn't acceptable."
Not allowing a vote on the compromise proposals also denies many Republicans the political cover they desperately want. Several GOP members want to show their constituents that they are concerned about the lack of progress in Iraq without forcing Bush's hand on the war.
Party leaders and anti-war groups hope that GOP members will return in September willing to back troop withdrawals if nothing else is offered in the meantime.
"The American public is paying attention," said Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. "The majority of Americans want to see the troops out by April ... and they really aren't going to settle for weak legislation."
On the Net:
House Appropriations Committee: http:appropriations.house.gov/
Democrats take all-or-nothing view on Iraq