2007-04-13 / Columnists

Meeks Message From Capitol Hill

A New Congress Enacts A New Course In Iraq
Commentary From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks

Commentary From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MeeKS Shortly before Congress took its Spring recess, the House of Representatives by a 218-212 majority passed the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act. A 51-47 Senate majority adopted a similar measure. Two Republicans in the House and two in the Senate voted for the bills.

The most important difference between the two bills is that the House measure sets a firm time line for redeploying our combat forces out of Iraq while the Senate legislation sets a goal of doing so. Each bill also mandates a different schedule of redeployment. Both provide for leaving residual forces in Iraq to protect the American embassy and other installations, train Iraqi military and security forces, and go after terrorist organizations. The differences between the measures will be worked out in a conference committee consisting of members from both parties in both houses when Congress reconvenes next week and then, after final passage by the House and Senate, sent to the president.

HR 1591 and S 965 mark the first time in four years of war and occupation that Congress has exerted its constitutional responsibility to hold the Bush Administration accountable for the conduct of the war in Iraq - a war, by the way, which was launched on false pretenses; a war that an overwhelming majority of Americans not only now believe was a mistake but also hasn't made America safer. This is also the first time in the four years of Mr. Bush's misguided, misled, mistake-filled, mismanaged misadventure in Iraq that Congress as a co-equal branch government has staked out a position of opposition to his insistence on staying the course and in fact escalating his failed policy.

HR 1591 and S 965 fully accord with what a sizeable majority of the American people desperately desire: namely, a responsible exit from the fiasco in Iraq. Poll after poll over the last two years, and especially the 2006 midterm congressional election which put Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, demonstrate that this is so.

Contrary to what the president and his "stay the course" lemmings on the right and in the media contend, HR 1591 and S 965 are well-reasoned actions. Both appropriate more money than the president requested for Iraq and Afghan operations and the war against terrorism through September 30 th of this year. But both bills fully and concretely support our troops by requiring that:

Troops sent to Iraq or Afghanistan using this funding must be properly equipped.

These troops must be specifically trained for the specific mission they are asked to undertake.

The president must certify that combat units to be redeployed meet the current Department of Defense standard of at least a year's rotation home.

The president is permitted to send "unprepared troops" (troops whose readiness does meet the Pentagon's own regulations) to Iraq only if he certifies in writing to Congress that deploying them is in the national interest.

The Iraqi government must meet the security, political, legislative, and economic performance benchmarks President Bush established in his January 10th speech to the nation.

If substantive progress in meeting these benchmarks is not accomplished by July 1, 2007, economic aid to Iraq will be restricted and the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq will begin immediately.

If key benchmarks are not met by October 7, 2007, the full redeployment of our troops will begin by no later than March 1, 2008 and completed within 180 days.

In a further testament to the 110th Congress' commitment to supporting our troops, HR 1591 and S 965 provide funds to repair Walter Reed Hospital and other veterans' outpatient facilities. Both bills increase funding for the long term treatment and care of soldiers and sailors that suffered traumatic combat injuries. The bills also appropriate additional funding to support veterans' families and survivors of troops lost in combat.

These measures will not undercut the president's commander-in-chief authority, but instead fulfills the authority and responsibility of Congress under Article I Section 8 of the Constitution which says "Congress shall have the power "to declare war". . . "To raise and support Armies . . . To provide and maintain a Navy . . . To make Rules for the government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces."

The president's irresponsibility and recklessness in Iraq was aided and abetted by congressional Republicans who abdicated this power when they were the majority. But, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has said, "there's a new Congress in town." The days of a rubber stamp Congress are over.

A reconciled version shortly will be sent to the president. Even if he vetoes it he will not get his way. Neither will the Democrats. Our majority is not large enough to override a veto. The president will ultimately have to negotiate a compromise bill with the Congress. Meanwhile, he - not the Congress - will have to explain: What's wrong with properly equipping and training our troops? Why does he have a problem with improving ongoing care for troops wounded in combat? What's excessive about increasing aid for the families and survivors of our troops? Why shouldn't the Iraqi government and the administration be held to benchmarks that the president told the American people he and the Iraqis have agreed to meet?

After more than 3200 Americans killed and tens of thousands wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, while pouring almost a half-trillion dollars into this folly, it is time for a new direction - precisely the course the 110th Congress is pursuing.

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