WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke today on the House Floor on the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill (U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health and Iraq Accountability Act). The following is his statement as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. Speaker, there is not a Member of this body – on either side of the aisle – who does not pray for our success in Iraq and the safe return of our brave servicemen and women.
“However, after the loss of more than 3,200 American soldiers and more than 24,000 injured, and after the expenditure of more than $400 billion on a war now entering its fifth year, even President Bush and Secretary of Defense Gates acknowledge that our efforts are not succeeding.
“The Defense Department says that, ‘Some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a civil war.’ The Iraqi government has failed to meet political goals. A National Intelligence Estimate concludes that this war is increasing the global war on terror. And, the Army chief of staff has issued strong warnings about the effect of the war on America’s overall military readiness.
“Thus, the question before the Members today is this: Will we change direction in Iraq? Or, will we continue to stay the course with a failing policy?
“Mr. Speaker, I believe the answer is clear. It is long past time that this Congress assert itself and insist on accountability and a new direction in Iraq. More blank checks from this Congress would constitute an abdication of our responsibility and our duty.
“This legislation – the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health and Iraq Accountability Act – will protect our troops, requiring deployments to adhere to existing Defense Department standards for training, equipment and armor, while allowing the President to waive DoD’s standards if he certifies that our national security requires it.
“The bill also holds the Iraqi government accountable, measuring its performance by the standards President Bush outlined in his January 10th speech. And, the bill provides a responsible strategy for a phased redeployment of U.S. forces, and refocuses our efforts on fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“Now, some claim that this legislation will ‘micro-manage’ the war. This is false. Our Commander in Chief and our military commanders on the ground will retain all the flexibility they need to succeed.
“The only strings attached – concerning troop readiness and the Iraqi government’s progress – have been endorsed by the President himself.
“Others assert that inclusion of a time-line for a responsible redeployment is tantamount to capitulation. Again, this claim is false. Even respected Republican leaders such as Senate Minority Leader McConnell and Senator McCain have recognized that the current troop escalation represents our last opportunity to succeed.
“And, Minority Leader Boehner said on January 23: ‘I think it will be rather clear in the next 60 to 90 days as to whether this plan [the current escalation] is going to work. . . . we need to know, as we’re moving through these benchmarks, that the iraqis are doing what they have to do.’
“I could not agree more. Under this legislation, if the Iraqis meet their benchmarks for progress, the redeployment of American forces will not begin until March 1, 2008 – nearly a year from now.
“Finally, let me point out that Republicans have not always opposed time-lines for withdrawing American forces from the battlefield. In fact, in June 1997, the House approved an amendment offered by Congressman Buyer setting a time-line and date certain for the withdrawal of American forces from the U.S. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia – even though we had been engaged in Bosnia for only 18 months, spent just $7 billion and suffered no casualties.
“Mr. Speaker, the Iraq war is already longer than our participation in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. As we enter the fifth year of this war, let us respond to the plea of the American people for a new direction in Iraq and insist on a policy designed to achieve success.
“This legislation – the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health and Iraq Accountability Act – gives us that opportunity. I urge members on both sides of the aisle: Vote for this important legislation.”