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Murtha Seeks GOP Support for Iraq Plan

Democratic war critic Rep. John Murtha (Pa.) is setting his sights a bit lower in a bid to attract GOP support for a withdrawal from Iraq starting this fall, but his new plan has opened a split within his own Caucus.

Murtha, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense chairman, unveiled language Wednesday calling for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq to start within 60 days, but his proposal does not set a date for completing the withdrawal.

Without a true deadline for bringing troops home, the legislation would appear to have little practical effect, upsetting members of the Out of Iraq Caucus who have vowed not to vote for continued war funding unless it is to pay for a withdrawal. Murtha said he’s offering the new plan in an effort to appeal to Republicans and find something the White House can accept.

Despite new reports suggesting war planners are looking to keep troops in Iraq for at least another two years, Murtha held out hope that the White House and Congressional Republicans will re-evaluate the war policy by September, when the $140 billion war supplemental will hit the House floor and a report is due from Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

“Believe me, the pressure is on and there are a lot of people putting pressure on them to change direction,” Murtha said of the White House. But Murtha, who talked about his Iraq plans after House appropriators approved a $460 billion Defense spending bill, acknowledged that he’s not certain if his plan would get support from House leaders or from rank-and-file Democrats, particularly freshmen, who are under tremendous pressure to bring troops home and support strict timelines for withdrawal.

“The public wants us out of there,” Murtha said.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said she would oppose Murtha’s proposal.

“You can’t trust this president, so you can’t allow him to have an open-ended commitment,” Woolsey said. “It violates the vote we had just a few weeks ago of a deadline of April 2008, and it violates what the American people want.”

Woolsey said she’s worried that Republicans could get political cover by voting for a measure without teeth, and she’s also worried about Democrats who have voted for an end date having to go backward.

“We are looking forward to September with the endgame being fully funding the safe and orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq with a start date and an end date,” she said.

The language also requires President Bush to submit a classified report to Congress with a comprehensive five-year regional stability plan for the Middle East.

Murtha, who also wants troop readiness standards and other provisions, acknowledged that House Democrats ultimately would be bound by what the Senate can pass. “If the Senate can’t pass it we’ll have to make adjustments,” Murtha said.

Although several House and Senate Republicans have talked recently about a need to change Iraq policy, only a few have started voting with Democrats on withdrawal dates. Republican moderates continue to complain that Democrats have yet to reach out to them on bipartisan legislation calling for a change of the mission in Iraq, and war hawks accuse Democrats of undermining the war effort with defeatist talk.

“We’re still not focusing on trying to figure out a broad bipartisan consensus,” complained Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.). Wilson said it’s “inevitable that there will be some withdrawal of troops” likely starting this fall in part because of the lack of available reinforcements, but she said Democrats have refused to work with Republicans on changing the mission for the remaining troops.

House and Senate Democratic leaders have so far refused to back bipartisan bills calling for the implementation of the Iraq Study Group recommendations, which call for transitioning the mission from combat to training and support of Iraqi troops over time.

War critics have attacked those bills as toothless, and 70 House Democrats already have committed to not supporting additional war funding except to pay for a withdrawal. That would appear to be at odds with Murtha’s latest plan.

House Democrats, meanwhile, continued to rack up symbolic votes on the war that are intended to show their frustrated base supporters that they are doing what they can to end it. A bill banning permanent bases in Iraq passed the chamber 399-24 on Wednesday and was hailed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as part of creating a “new direction” in Iraq. But Republicans noted the bill was largely redundant — past war spending bills, even those passed under Republican leadership, also banned permanent bases.

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