Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Democratic voters growing impatient with Congress"

McClatchy Newspapers:
CHICAGO - In Washington, Democrats are blaming Republicans for the Senate's failure so far to vote on a resolution opposing a troop increase in Iraq.

But in the heartland, some voters say such excuses no longer are good enough.

Having banked on the promise that Democrats would force a change of course in Iraq if they won control of Congress, some of the people who helped the Democrats get there are growing impatient.

They're frustrated that Democrats sank so much energy into a nonbinding resolution then dropped the bipartisan plan of Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., like a hot potato when Republican leaders who support President Bush maneuvered them into a corner.
All the finagling has gotten in the way of a formal debate or vote in the Senate on Bush's plans for Iraq.

The House of Representatives, sensing voters' impatience, is expected to go ahead next week with its own plan rather than follow the Senate.

"The people spoke pretty clearly in November, and nothing's happened," said Bill Fahrenwald, a marketer from Blue Island, Ill., a Chicago suburb. "It's pretty discouraging."

"They're being overly cautious, to the point of really not accomplishing anything," said Lisa Rone, a psychiatrist from Oak Park, Ill. "I thought the Democrats would be much more clear about that vote and be much more active."

Those criticisms don't match the rhetoric from Senate Democrats, who say they're building toward decisive votes on the war.

"I think the American public's very satisfied with what's happening," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We're on the right side of the angels here."

Democrats, who control the Senate 51-49, have nine new senators this year. All have supported Reid's handling of the Iraq issue so far.

Freshman Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said during a trip home a week ago, "I've had nothing but positive (feedback) from people knowing that we're pushing this and want to get it done."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said her constituents thought Republicans were trying to protect Bush "from the embarrassment of a public way of saying `you're wrong' in a bipartisan fashion."

But she's frustrated by a Senate rule that lets the minority party put the majority in a corner because 60 of the 100 members must agree to force a debate or a vote.

"Maybe after I'm here awhile I'll understand it," she said, "but right now it seems like we ought to be able to vote and see where the majority is, not where 60 are."

In the House, the minority doesn't have the same power.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Republican leadership was trying to expand, not block, the debate and that voters blamed the party in charge for inaction.

"The only thing we could have done differently would have been capitulate and allow the majority to determine what amendments were offered by the minority," he said.

Many Republicans say the Warner-Levin resolution is pointless and that without the force of law it could demoralize the troops. They say the president's troop increase in Iraq should be given a chance.

So they said they'd block consideration of the resolution unless Democrats also debated a resolution by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that would support the troops and take no position on a troop increase.

Democrats saw a trap: If they backed Gregg's resolution, then didn't get 60 votes on Warner-Levin, the only formal statement out of the Senate would voice no opposition to the troop increase. If they rejected Gregg's, opponents would run ads accusing them of hurting the troops.

Their decision: Hold off on a formal debate. Senators who are critical of Iraq policy have been waiting a long time for a debate, though, which they couldn't get when Republicans were in charge.

Despite Democratic senators' confident talk, their party is worried about keeping voters' faith.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House couldn't let members go home Feb. 17 for a weeklong recess empty-handed. So the House plans to begin a three-day debate Tuesday and vote on its own resolution opposing the troop buildup.

National polling shows that a majority of Americans support a resolution opposing the troop increase. National independent polling organizations haven't assessed reaction to the stalled Senate debate.

It's only about a month into the 110th Congress, and the appropriations bills - where Democrats have the real power to attach strings to military spending if they can muster the will and support - are weeks away from consideration. Still, there's mounting pressure on Democrats from their base across the country.

At least 22 state legislatures are considering resolutions urging Congress to stop the deployment of more U.S. troops to Iraq, said David Sirota, the Montana-based co-chairman of the Progressive States Network:

They are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Senate Majority Leader Reid said that when the Senate returned from the recess at the end of the month, Democrats would redouble their efforts. They may take up whatever Iraq resolution the House passes. Or they'll look for ways to impose conditions or deadlines on continued U.S. involvement.

Freshman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he agreed with Reid's decision to hold off on the debate rather than consider Gregg's alternative.

But Tester conceded, "If you can't get a vote on a nonbinding it's going to be very difficult to get a vote on anything else." He said, "I think you just work within the process and hope something changes."

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