House leaders start planning possible wartime agenda
As the Bush administration ramps up the U.S. military posture in the Middle East, House leaders are pondering the consequences of a war in Iraq and the added workload it means for Congress.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said GOP members are ready for longer workdays. "If we do go to war, I think you'll see us in session a little more to do the things we need to do," DeLay said this week. He said GOP leaders expect the White House to send up a wartime supplemental fiscal 2003 spending bill and said the House would try to move it "as soon as possible."
DeLay said the House would also engage in "heavy lifting" in the weeks between now and Memorial Day on the fiscal 2004 budget, an economic growth package, tort reform and a Medicare prescription drug benefit. One veteran GOP lawmaker suggested an Iraq war could benefit Bush's agenda at home. "If they have a big success [in Iraq], maybe then that will be good for the president and help the tax cut," the Republican said.
Asked how Congress would respond to the war, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., summed up its charge as "the welfare of the nation." At a local Chamber of Commerce meeting in Findlay, Ohio, Hastert today predicted: "We'll be in a situation of war within a couple of weeks. My estimation. That's not official and certainly not the White House's position," the Associated Press reported.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said lawmakers are already engaged in a discussion about a possible war in Iraq, but predicted an open conflict would mean more work in the district. "I think it will be a division of work," Brady said. "I think you will spend a great deal of time at home conversing with folks back home."
Republican Conference Vice Chairman Jack Kingston of Georgia said Congress would also be responsible for "minding the store" in the Capitol. "There will be a lot more time in Washington," Kingston said, guessing that defense bills would move through the House sooner. "We could possibly move up some [military construction] and Defense appropriations and authorizations," he said.
A spokesman for Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio said Pryce's office has already begun meeting with committee, White House and Cabinet department staffs in preparation for a Capitol Hill "war room" that would "act as a clearinghouse for information" for GOP members and their constituents.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she hoped that whatever bipartisan solidarity develops in Congress for the war effort would lead to more Democratic participation in domestic policy debates. "I hope we will have an opportunity for open discussion, contrary as to what is going on now as a matter of course on the floor of the House," Pelosi said.
A handful of Democratic lawmakers-running the ideological spectrum from liberal Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas to moderate Rep. Ellen Tauscher of California-have been pushing to some degree for another congressional debate about Iraq. Pelosi rejected the idea Thursday, noting the House overwhelming voted last October to authorize Bush to use military force.
"I don't think it is necessary. We took the vote. It was a pretty conclusive vote," Pelosi said. "It gave the president of the United States any and all authority to use force with or without a U.N. resolution."
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