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Measure says troops must be fully rested, equipped, trained
San Francisco Chronicle
Edward Epstein, Chronicle Washington Bureau
February 28, 2007

House Democratic leaders, defending a plan by Rep. John Murtha, said Tuesday they will press ahead with legislation requiring all U.S. troops be fully equipped, trained and rested before being sent back to Iraq.

Despite rumors that Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was backing away from the plan, which Republicans have decried as a "slow bleed" on the war, the speaker said Murtha's proposal on troop standards would be debated next week in committee and that she hopes to move it quickly to the floor.

The proposal, however, would allow President Bush to waive the rules if he wanted to deploy troops faster or under different standards than allowed by the measure.

"Our goal will be to raise the bar of accountability on President Bush and the Iraqi government" of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., who chairs the House Democratic caucus.

Pelosi and Emanuel spoke Tuesday evening with reporters after Murtha presented his plan in a closed-door meeting of the House Democrats.

Democrats in the House and Senate are struggling to find ways to confront Bush on the war without alienating their most conservative members and opening themselves to political charges they are harming American troops fighting in Iraq.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders also are being pushed to move faster by vigorous anti-war members of the party, particularly as polls show greater numbers of Americans oppose the war and want U.S. troops withdrawn. More than 3,160 American troops have been killed since the war began almost four years ago.

House Democrats, joined by 17 Republicans, recently approved a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's plan to add 21,500 troops to the war, but a Senate vote was blocked by Republicans.

House Democrats are turning next to Bush's request for $96.3 billion to pay for the war through Sept. 30. Weeks ago it appeared they would try to condition the money on changes in war policy, but Republicans seized the political initiative by castigating them for wanting to cut off funds for the soldiers in harm's way.

Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine veteran and a longtime military booster, has long called for a troop withdrawal. As chairman of the subcommittee responsible for military spending, Murtha hoped to use the power of the purse to force the president to pull Americans out of Iraq.

Instead, in a compromise designed to hold the Democrats together, Murtha's plan would place conditions on training, equipment and deployment, but not tie the money to those conditions.

Pelosi said repeatedly in the past few days that Murtha's proposals were really nothing new because current law requires units to be trained and equipped. But current rules allow the Defense Department to waive those conditions. She wants to raise that waiver to a presidential decision.

"Let us have the policy that is in place now," Pelosi said.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday showed that 66 percent of those surveyed oppose the president's planned troop buildup. It also found for the first time that a majority -- 53 percent -- say a deadline should be set to withdraw U.S. forces.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, said the focus of the debate shouldn't be on what Democrats in Congress want to do to end the war.

"This isn't about the Democrats. It's about the president. He doesn't want to do what the American people want him to do," she said.

"We're trying to persuade the president that he's got to change course," Tauscher said.

E-mail Edward Epstein at eepstein@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page A - 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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