Capitol divided over wording of bill of support WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Peter Osterlund | Peter Osterlund,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- While allied forces continued to blast Iraqi military facilities at a 1,400-bombing-missions-a-day clip, Congress entangled itself yesterday in a partisan fight over the language of a resolution expressing solidarity with the U.S. troops waging war in the Persian Gulf.

At the end of the day, the Senate unanimously adopted 7/8 7/8 TC resolution pledging its support to both the troops in the field and the president constitutionally charged with commanding them. The House was expected to endorse the same resolution today.

But the imbroglio highlighted deep fractures over Operation Desert Storm within a Congress that, almost to its last member, has promised to provide U.S. troops with the moral and logistical support they need to prevail over Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's legions.

"My sense is that the president was authorized to go to war -- but to win it quickly," said Representative Lee H. Hamilton, D-Ind. "If war drags on, then I would expect the opposition to the war to rise in the country."

Yesterday's fevered negotiations reflected that fact as Republicans sought to craft a statement lauding both President Bush's policies and the men and women charged with executing them, while Democrats sought a resolution that merely pledged congressional support for the armed forces.

Only five days ago, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate sought to prevent President Bush from using force to dislodge Mr. Hussein's troops from Kuwait. As soon as word reached Capitol Hill of Wednesday's allied attack on Iraq, however, the president's erstwhile opponents sought to muzzle differences and project a veneer of unanimity to the world.

"That debate is over, and I will do nothing by answering any questions on the subject to rekindle, reauthorize or reopen that debate," said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash.

In the meantime, many Democrats were eager to go on the record in support of U.S. forces. The Democrats' first draft said that "while members of Congress expressed honest differences of opinion during the recent debate on Persian Gulf policy, there are no differences on support for the men and women of our armed forces."

"Mealy-mouthed, to say the least," charged House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill. The Democrats "don't want to say anything good about President Bush," complained Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.

Republicans, on the other hand, wanted the resolution to say that "the Congress commends the president for his decisive leadership in the Persian Gulf crisis [and] unequivocally supports the men and women of our armed forces."

"It's got all this hortatory language about how great the president is," grumbled Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "It's like they're rubbing our noses in it."

Finally, the two sides settled on language reading, in part, that "the Congress commends and supports the efforts of the president as commander in chief in the Persian Gulf hostilities."

Even by Capitol Hill's standards, it all struck some as ludicrous hair-splitting.

"Congress has a proclivity for looking silly," said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. "But since I believe in the old adage, 'You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,' I'm not alarmed about it."

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