WASHINGTON -- House leaders, smarting from accusations that Congress is vacillating in the Western alliance's accelerating war of nerves with Iraq, have decided to hold a vote on the U.S. Persian Gulf policy by Saturday.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., said yesterday that the House will meet Thursday to begin formal debate on President Bush's strategy toward Iraq.
"To say that we don't want to take a position because we want to be on both sides is untrue," Mr. Foley said. "We are going to take a position."
The announcement met with a lukewarm response from the Bush administration, which claims it has constitutional authority to launch an attack against Iraqi forces without prior consent from Congress.
Both Mr. Foley and Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine -- Congress' two top Democrats -- have expressed opposition to the immediate use of force against Iraq, arguing for continued diplomacy to seek the same goals. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought support on Capitol Hill for the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force if Iraqi forces do not withdraw from Kuwait by next Tuesday.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Mr. Bush will meet with lawmakers throughout the week in an effort to help shape any resolution that does emerge.
"We'll work with Congress. Our preferred language is something pretty close to what the U.N. passed,"Mr. Fitzwater said. "Any resolution that would weaken the U.N. position would not be helpful."
While the terms of the debate and the structure of the vote itself remained the subject of ongoing discussions, Mr. Foley said that the House might be confronted with three separate resolutions addressing the question of whether the United States should go to war with Iraq:
* One probably would assert the legislature's war-making prerogatives, contending that Mr. Bush must receive congressional approval before initiating an attack on Iraq.
* Another likely would call for the continued application of economic sanctions and diplomacy before resorting to force.
* A third would probably echo the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force, language that Mr. Foley said "would probably pass the House if the vote were taken today," though not "by the levels the president thought he would like to see."
The House Rules Committee, which determines the procedures by which the House considers legislation, is to meet Thursday to iron out logistics of the debate. House Democrats are also scheduled to meet privately Thursday.
The Senate, meanwhile, has yet to settle on a course of action. The body's majority Democrats are to meet in closed caucus tomorrow.
Theoretically, both chambers will pass the same resolution, called a "concurrent resolution," which does not require the president's signature and, hence, does not have the force of law.