May 10, 2007
Pg. 6 Congressman Calls For President To Show Willingness To Negotiate
By Kathy Kiely, USA Today
WASHINGTON - As the House prepares to vote on a second Iraq war funding bill that President Bush vows to veto, Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, is the man in the middle.
The latest Democratic proposal would fund military operations in Iraq into the summer but require Congress to decide in July whether to release more money. Edwards, one of the military's leading advocates on Capitol Hill, said Wednesday that short-term funding "is not my first preference," but that he's leaning toward supporting his party leadership "primarily because I want to move this process along." The vote could come as early as today.
As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders try to sell the latest Iraq proposal to members of their party, efforts to satisfy the party's vocal "Out of Iraq Caucus" have drawn most of the media attention. Edwards embodies the other end of the political spectrum.
Edwards, 55, is a centrist Democrat with a military bent. He co-chairs the House Army Caucus and chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction. His largely rural central Texas district includes his alma mater, Texas A&M University, whose military cadet corps is the largest outside the service academies. Edwards' district also includes the ranch the president calls home.
Last month, Edwards received an invitation to join the president and first lady Laura Bush for an informal supper at the White House with a bipartisan group of four other House and Senate members and their spouses.
"It was mostly social," Edwards said of the evening. But he said his constituent in chief did ask about the first Iraq funding proposal, which Bush ultimately vetoed. "He was curious about whether it would pass," Edwards said. "I said I thought it would be a close vote but that it would pass and that Democrats felt it was important to send a message to the country and especially to Iraqis that they have to take more responsibility for their country's future."
Before he agreed to vote for the first Democratic Iraq funding bill, which set a deadline for troop withdrawals, Edwards insisted on a provision that would have given the president the right to waive those requirements if he deemed it necessary. He said he told his party leaders, "We must allow flexibility to the commander in chief."
Now Edwards believes it's time for the White House to show flexibility. "The White House has to be willing to negotiate in good faith," he said. "The House has taken a step by dropping timetables."
At this point, parties in the Iraq funding negotiations seem to be waiting for the House and Senate to approve new bills and head to a conference committee before opening serious talks.
"This is a process that begins in the House, it doesn't end in the House," White House counselor Dan Bartlett said.
Pelosi delivered a similar message in an interview this week with USA TODAY. "We have to pass a bill in order to have a place to discuss from," she said. "And that place would probably be the conference report, where the Senate and House come together around a position that we hope we can talk with the White House about."
Edwards said it might help if Bush would engage in the kind of give-and-take they experienced at the dinner.
"The president has a tremendous personality. He's a warm person. Mrs. Bush is extremely gracious," Edwards said. "If they use their strong personal skills to develop relationships across the aisle in the next two years, we can do some good things for the country." Contributing: David Jackson