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Congressman adds voice to call for accountability

Larsen says Pres. Bush won’tget ‘blank check’

Rep. Rick Larsen said Congress will continue its attempts to negotiate with the White House in the hopes that a bill funding the war in Iraq can be passed by Memorial Day.

The 2nd District Democrat said his recent votes on the war-funding bill that included a controversial timeline for troop withdrawal, and his subsequent vote in the failed attempt to override Pres. Bush’s veto of the spending measure, were attempts to send the message that Congress won’t give a “blank check” to the president on Iraq.

Larsen, who voted to oppose the war at its onset and voted more recently against the president’s move to send more combat troops to Iraq, said the U.S. should refocus its efforts on fighting terrorism.

“The biggest concern I have is that most of our troops in Iraq are keeping a lid on a civil war that puts them in the middle of a fight that is not theirs,” Larsen said. “The fight against terrorism is ours and we need to focus on that.”

“The mission of our troops in Iraq needs to change, and every vote the Democrats have taken have allowed the president to keep as many troops as he wants in Iraq so long as they are focused on training the Iraqi military and fighting terrorists in Iraq,” said Larsen, (D-Lake Stevens).

Bush vetoed the original bill, called the “U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007” on May 1. It was the fourth anniversary of his speech where he declared major combat operations over in Iraq while standing beneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the Everett-based aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

That bill set an August 2008 pullout date for troops in Iraq. Bush rejected the bill, saying it created an artificial deadline that would “encourage killers across the broader Middle East and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments.”

Larsen, however, said the inclusion of a deadline in the bill was appropriate.

“Based on the level of violence in Iraq it is clear that Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters don’t need a timeline to conduct hideous attacks. Timelines clearly have no impact on the atacks taking place in Iraq,” Larsen said.

Larsen said provisions in the original bill were necessary to guarantee that progress would be made in Iraq.

“The idea was that we would give the president all the money he wants through July 13. In the middle of July, the president would be required to come back and report to Congress,” Larsen said.

That update would include a discussion on key benchmarks, such as the Iraqi government’s progress on disarming militias and sharing oil revenues within the country.

“We need to hold the Iraqi government accountable and hold the president accountable for the serious mistakes he’s made in his policies in Iraq,” Larsen added. “Honestly, it could be called the Pres. Bush Accountability Act.”

The House passed a revised “Iraq Accountability Act” on May 10. It revised the bill vetoed by Bush by making $42.8 billion immediately available for the war and another $52.8 billion after the Iraqi government met specific benchmarks and Bush presented a progress report to Congress by July 13.

The bill would also provide $1.8 billion for veterans’ medical care, $2.25 billion for homeland security, and a ban on permanent military bases in Iraq.

The revised bill was passed by the House 221-205.

“Ultimately if we don’t do this, there will continue to be violence in Iraq. No one can tell me after four years of mistakes in Iraq the president doesn’t deserve some accountability,” Larsen said. “And Congress is not going to roll over and let the president continue to make mistake after mistake. The men and women in the military deserve much more than that.”

Larsen, who voted against authorizing the president to go to war more than four years ago, also voted for a nonbinding resolution in February that opposed the president’s proposal to send more than 20,000 additional combat troops to Iraq.

More American troops in Iraq have only changed the types of attacks taking place, Larsen said.

“I voted against the escalation of troops in Iraq, the main reason being that we have tried a surge in Iraq once every summer and the level of violence has not decreased.

“What we’ve seen happen in Iraq with the most recent surge is some of the violence moved outside Bagdad. We have seen individual murders drop, but we’ve seen car bomb numbers increase,” Larsen said.

Late last week, the Marine Corps top officer in Iraq,

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, told Pentagon reporters that coalition forces were making daily progress in Iraq. He also said that Americans should realize that defeating an insurgency takes time.

Historically, that’s usually between nine and 10 years, Conway said.

The cost of the war now totals more than $427 billion, according to the National Priorities Project Website at www.costofwar.com.

Broken down at a county level, the cost so far for taxpayers in Island County is $117 million.

Larsen said pressure will continue from Congress for progress.

“This is not about loving the president or not loving the president. Frankly, at this point, it’s beyond being a Democrat or a Republican. It’s about trying to fix the mistakes that have taken place,” he said.

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