WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives' top lawmaker in charge of defense spending said Friday that he intends to force the closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison for terrorist suspects and curb U.S. engagement in Iraq, and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "absolutely" supports his efforts.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said Congress shouldn't provide funds for sending more soldiers overseas until the Bush administration takes those steps and others, including restoring the Army's ability to respond to other crises by increasing troop strength of the strategic reserve—those forces able to deploy urgently anywhere.
"We have no ability to deploy and sustain a deployment in Iran or Korea, and the enemy knows this," Murtha said.
Murtha, as chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said he'd push for a plan to pressure the Bush administration to make the changes he seeks in order to get the money it wants for the war in Iraq. The administration is expected to propose a war-funding request as a supplemental budget bill next month.
Murtha wants President Bush to halt the 21,500-troop increase he announced Wednesday night and start bringing American forces home. He said he wouldn't cut any funds for those already fighting. (Democrats are taking care not to open themselves to criticism that they don't "support the troops" even as they press to wind down the war.)
If the full House eventually passes Murtha's plan, the measure still would need approval by the Senate, where Democrats have only a 51-49 majority. While up to a dozen Republican senators have criticized Bush's war plan, it's unclear how much support Murtha's plan would have in the Senate.
But increasingly, Republicans in both houses are signaling that they're uncomfortable with Bush's war policy. House Republicans called an unusual "listening session" Friday to gauge the growing resistance in the party to the president's plan and to allow lawmakers to vent.
"Members of our party are skeptical" about whether the troop increase would fundamentally improve conditions in Iraq, said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., chairman of the House Republican Caucus. Putnam, usually a staunch Bush supporter, says he too has concerns about the proposed troop increase.
In the Senate, John Warner, R-Va., a former Navy secretary and senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday that the idea of attaching conditions to war appropriations "is worthy of intense review," but he quickly added, "That's all I have to say about it."
Warner joined Democrats Friday in pressing Defense Secretary Robert Gates for a commitment that Bush isn't planning to send U.S. forces across the Iraq border into Iran and Syria.
"We believe that we can interrupt these networks that are providing support through actions inside the territory of Iraq. There is no need to attack targets in Iran itself," Gates said.
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced a House resolution Friday that would require the president to receive congressional authorization to use military force against Iran.
Bush recently sent a second aircraft carrier strike group to the region.
The White House appeared concerned about the Republican uprising in Congress, as spokesman Tony Snow opened his briefing by saying that the idea that there's a plan to invade Iran or Syria is an "urban legend."
"What the president was talking about is defending American forces within Iraq, and also doing what we can to disrupt networks that might be trying to convey weapons or fighters into battle theaters within Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis," Snow said.
Murtha said the best way to control what course the war takes now is for Congress to attach conditions to war-spending bills, because Bush is unlikely to veto a bill that provides money to keep fighting.
The Guantanamo military prison needs to be closed to restore American credibility, Murtha said. He plans to try to limit the troop increase as it takes place over the next four months. He thinks the increase wouldn't stop sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Murtha brushed aside critics who say he's trying to micromanage the Defense Department. "I'll tell you, they need micromanagement," he said. "They've been out of control."
Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said Pelosi hasn't endorsed any specifics, but that Murtha's development of a list of conditions on which war funding would hinge "is something she certainly encouraged him to do."
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Lesley Clark contributed to this report.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.