Congressmen propose a war tax

Times Staff Writer

Unable to force President Bush to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, House Democrats settled Tuesday for a less controversial measure to require more reports on plans to pull forces out.

But in an indication of the debate within Democratic ranks about how to challenge Bush’s wartime leadership, three senior House members also threatened to hold up funding for the war and proposed a tax to pay for it.

Democratic Reps. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts -- who have helped lead the drive to end the war this year -- accused Bush of unfairly burdening military service members and their families with all the sacrifices for the war.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) quickly announced her opposition to Obey’s plan, as Democratic leaders tried to focus on the legislation approved Tuesday.

The measure requiring reports on plans to remove troops from Iraq -- sponsored by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and Phil English (R-Pa.) -- passed overwhelmingly, 377-46.

In an unusual moment of bipartisan consensus on Iraq-related legislation, 181 Republicans voted for the proposal, which House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) called “the rarest of creatures.”

The measure appears unlikely to win much support among Democratic leaders in the Senate, who blasted a similar proposal by GOP senators during the summer.

Congressional Democrats have been pushing for nine months to force the president to bring troops home from Iraq. But Republicans in the Senate have effectively blocked every move to mandate a strategy change in Iraq.

With the demise of a series of Democratic proposals to set withdrawal timelines in recent months, House leaders embraced less confrontational war measures and a more moderate approach that could attract Republican support.

“We want to end the party sniping,” said Abercrombie, who has been trying since July to get his measure to the floor for a vote and past antiwar lawmakers who complained that it did nothing to hasten the end of the 4 1/2 -year-old war.

“Republicans alone, Democrats alone, cannot bring this to an end,” Abercrombie said. “It requires us all to work together.”

With the blessing of leaders, including Pelosi, Abercrombie worked with a group of House Democrats on measures that could build bipartisan momentum for changing U.S. policy in Iraq without explicitly ordering a withdrawal.

The measure passed Tuesday would require the secretary of Defense to “submit to the congressional defense committees a report on the status of planning for the redeployment of the armed forces from Iraq.” The first report would be due within 60 days of the bill’s enactment, with follow-up reports due every 90 days afterward. The legislation also would require the Defense secretary to brief Congress about the reports.

But the measure was not greeted with universal acclaim on the Democratic side of the aisle. “It merely generates another report,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, a staunch member of the House Out of Iraq Caucus. “Our problem in Iraq is not a lack of reports.”

Thirty Democrats -- including leading California war critics Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma -- voted against the Abercrombie proposal; 16 Republicans also opposed it.

Obey, who leads the House Appropriations Committee, voted for it. But he underscored Democratic impatience with his threat Tuesday to hold up an approximately $190-billion supplemental funding bill the Bush administration is expected to seek this fall.

Democrats have thus far resisted withholding money for the war out of concern that they would be accused of depriving troops of needed supplies.

And Murtha, who is the defense appropriations subcommittee chairman, said Tuesday that Democrats would ensure that troops in Iraq continue to be funded by inserting the money in other legislation if the supplemental funding bill was stalled.

Obey provided only a few details of his tax plan, saying he envisioned that low- and moderate-income taxpayers would pay about $2 more for every $100 of income taxes; wealthier taxpayers would pay an extra $12 to $15. Obey said he would exempt military service members and their families.

“There is no sense of shared sacrifice in this country on this war,” Obey said. “The only families being asked to sacrifice are military families, and they are being asked to sacrifice again and again and again. We need to stop pretending that this war doesn’t cost anything.”

House Republicans and the White House denounced the tax proposal. Pelosi issued a statement rejecting it: “Just as I have opposed the war from the outset . . . I am opposed to a war surtax.”