WASHINGTON – No. 2 House Republican Roy Blunt challenged Democrats on Friday to pass a $50 billion war spending package, pouncing on new remarks by Democratic Rep. John Murtha who said, "I think the surge is working."
"With one of the Democrats’ leading war critics now saying the surge in Iraq is working, it’s difficult to understand why the majority continues to push an irresponsible withdrawal plan that jeopardizes critical support funding for our troops," Blunt said in a statement he released Friday.
Blunt, of Missouri, then turned to the $50 billion "bridge" funding bill to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the spring. Congressional Republicans and the White House have been calling on Democrats to remove the restrictive language in the spending bill, and said that without the money, the Pentagon will have to make drastic changes in its budget that could, among other things, reduce training for troops heading to Iraq.
"The stakes are too high for this Congress to remain idle on this critical funding bill. ... It’s time for the majority to stop playing games and deliver a well-deserved gift in time for Christmas to our men and women in uniform: a clean supplemental funding bill," Blunt said.
Murtha, one of the most ardent critics of President Bush's war policy, on Friday issued a statement softening his assessment of the troop surge, calling it "a window of opportunity." Murtha is one of the most powerful House Democrats when it comes to war funding.
The Pennsylvania Democrat gave qualified but likely his most glowing remarks Thursday about the Iraq war.
"I think the surge is working, but that's only one element," said Murtha, who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee. "And the surge is working for a couple of different reasons. And one reason is the increase in troops."
On Friday, however, Murtha's office moved to clarify his seemingly positive take on the surge, this time putting it in the context of renewed criticism of the administration.
"The military surge has created a window of opportunity for the Iraqi government," Murtha's statement read. "Unfortunately, the sacrifice of our troops has not been met by the Iraqi government and they have failed to capitalize on the political and diplomatic steps that the surge was designed to provide.
"The fact remains that the war in Iraq cannot be won militarily, and that we must begin an orderly redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as practicable."
Murtha, speaking to reporters Thursday in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa., mixed in renewed criticism of the Bush administration's management of the Iraq war, saying it was waged with too few troops, and that it is too costly.
"We can no longer afford to spend $14 billion a month on this war and let our readiness slip," Murtha said.
But, "If you put more forces in, things will work out," he said.
"But the thing is, the Iraqis have to do this themselves," he added. "We can't win it for them in Afghanistan or Iraq, and provinces they've (Iraqi forces) taken over, we've done better. We can't win."
According to The Politico, one congressional aide said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- a strong Murtha ally -- would "be furious."
Pelosi's office on Friday dismissed the claim. Spokesman Brendan Daily said, "Of course, she is not furious."
Murtha, a Vietnam War veteran who had been known to be hawkish on military policy, made waves in 2005 when he called for an immediate drawdown in troops in Iraq, saying the U.S. military was "broken," and there was no foreseeable outcome of a continued military presence in Iraq.
Since then, Democrats took over the House and Senate after the 2006 elections, in large part due to an antiwar vote. Democratic leaders have tried — and failed — dozens of times to force the administration's hand by linking war funding to pullout timetables.
Murtha on Thursday still called for a troop withdrawal, but left some wiggle room saying that U.S. military equipment — which is harder to move than the troops themselves — could be left behind for a longer period of time than troops themselves.
"The House of Representatives has passed a $50 billion funding bill that provides the president, our troops, and our nation with a responsible plan for bringing our troops home," Murtha's statement read. "The President should heed the advice of the American people and allow this funding bill to become law. "
But the administration has dismissed the current bill Congress is offering because it would require that the administration bring most troops home by the end of 2008, and would set other restrictions on non-military interrogation techniques by banning outright the use of waterboarding. Waterboarding, a technique viewed by many as a form of tortured, is banned by use of the U.S. military, but not agencies like the CIA.