WASHINGTON, Sep 28 (Reuters) With the US Senate gridlocked over pulling troops out of Iraq, a more modest House of Representatives proposal gained momentum as the chamber's Republican leader said he would likely vote for it.
The proposal, by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, does not mandate any US troop withdrawals but would require the Pentagon to submit regular reports on withdrawal planning to defense committees of Congress.
A House committee approved it overwhelmingly in July but it has yet to be brought up for a floor vote by House Democratic leaders. They have been pressured to shelve the idea by anti-war lawmakers who fear any compromise could hurt chances to end the unpopular Iraq conflict.
Yesterday, House Republican leader John Boehner, a Bush loyalist and defender of the war, said he thought he would vote for it if he got the chance, signaling it could attract extensive Republican support.
''It came out of committee virtually unanimously,'' Boehner, of Ohio, told reporters, adding, ''I would be shocked if the Pentagon did not already have this (pullout) plan sitting on its shelf.'' Democratic leadership aides said the proposal could be brought to the House floor for a vote as early as next week, but stressed the matter was still undecided. The plan's co-sponsor, Tennessee Democratic Rep. John Tanner, told reporters he expected a vote as early as Tuesday.
Tanner has been pushing for a more incremental approach on changing Iraq strategy rather than legislation mandating troop withdrawal timetables. The House has passed the latter several times, only to have it stall in the Senate, where the Democratic majority is much more narrow.
''When Congress says we want a definite date (for pullout) it is criticized for trying to micromanage the war. We're saying, you (the Bush administration) tell us (what the pullout plans are). And then maybe we can engage in constructive dialogue,'' Tanner said outside the House chamber.
He said such planning was clearly going on, given that the Pentagon intends to reduce US forces in Iraq by some 30,000 by July 2008. There are about 165,000 US troops there now.
Congressional aides said the House could launch a series of votes on Iraq next week, with bills on war profiteering and contracting in the mix as well as Tanner's proposal.
There could also be other votes on bills by the fervent anti-war wing of the Democratic caucus, spilling over into the following week and the October 10 fifth-year anniversary of the 2002 House vote authorizing Bush to attack Iraq.
Senate war opponents were bitterly disappointed last week when proposals to change Iraq strategy not only failed but lost ground from earlier votes. Senate Democrats say they will not give up trying to end the war, but their next move is unclear.
The Senate passed a nonbinding resolution this week advocating the division of Iraq into federal regions as a way to end the sectarian strife and allow US troops to leave.
Reuters KK VP0555