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REP. PELOSI: Thank you very much, Mr. Leader.
I want to join the leader in welcoming our special guests today, our friends from the veterans community. Bobby Muller, whom we've all -- (inaudible) -- over the years, whether it's eliminating land mines or speaking out for veterans. Thank you, Bobby, for your leadership. Jon Soltz, who's been very courageous in his statements of shining the light of truth on what is happening in Iraq. We're also joined by Miguel Sapp and Brian McGough, who are Iraq vets.
I want to say to them how much we all appreciate their courage, their patriotism and the sacrifice they were willing to make for our country. In the military, there's a saying that (in battle ?) we don't leave any soldier behind on the battlefield. We in Congress have said to our veterans, "And when you come home, you will not be forgotten."
That's why I was very proud to join Leader Reid in putting forth the biggest increase in veterans' benefits in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration. That is how we honor our troops. That is how we support our troops.
The leader asked two questions: Are we safer and when are going to bring the troops home? I'd like to elaborate on them. When we know that the real war on terror is in Afghanistan, how can we have that real effort with a sustained effort in Iraq continuing? And are we -- when are we going to bring the troops home? This is a question we have been asking over and over again. I posed it in a letter to him this week, when I said, "Mr. President, in your speech, I want you to tell us what are the conditions that would make the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq possible." What is the impact of this war on the readiness of our military, which our military leaders have rated as unacceptable?
We need better answers for the -- from the president. Certainly, he sent General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to the Congress. We respect them for their service to our country, but we need answers from the commander in chief. We need real answers from the commander in chief, from the president of the United States.
Leader Reid is correct. We have over and over again tried to send to the president's desk what is really the law, the guidelines of the Department of Defense, that the dwell time at home should not -- dwell time in deployment should not exceed the dwell time at home, and that should not exceed 15 months, and that's a lot to begin with. I know others will address that issue, but I think it should not be lost on anyone that this suggestion the president is making now is long overdue and something the Republicans in Congress and the president of the United States have rejected over and over again.
The cost of this war is huge, over 4,000 -- 17 just in the last few days -- of our troops lost, tens of thousands of them injured, many of them -- thousands of them permanently. The cost in our reputation in the world has been severely damaged. The cost in taxpayer dollars has been astronomical.
And another question we have for the president is, when are the Iraqis going to use some of their budget surplus for their own reconstruction instead of continuing to take us deeper into debt to pay for that reconstruction?
The president has taken us into a failed war. He's taken us deeply into debt. And he's taking -- that debt is taking us into recession. We need some answers for the president.
And that's why we want the president to manage this war better, answer the questions to the American people. And again, I agree with Leader Reid. He is just dragging this out so he can put it at the doorstep of the new president of the United States. And may I add, if he doesn't change his economic policy, he will be leaving a failed war policy and a failed economy at the doorstep of that new president.
Today we have been joined from some of America's brave veterans. They believe that improving the situation in Iraq cannot wait for the next administration, and we agree. It is time for this president to leave and lead us in a new direction.
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Q Mr. Leader and Speaker Pelosi, do you acknowledge any of the progress the general and the ambassador talked about, and at least the possibility of some significant political reconciliation by the time of the pause in July?
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REP. PELOSI: I would like to respond to that first question about what we heard, and are there any thoughts that they could achieve political success while the full deployment of our troops are there. I associate myself with Senator Reid's remark that we certainly hope so, but there hasn't been any success to match the service and sacrifice of our troops and the secure period of time for there to have been any political solutions put forth to bring peace and reconciliation in Iraq.
In fact, the generals there have said the greatest threat or the greatest obstacle to peace and reconciliation in Iraq are not the Sunnis, are not the Iranians, are not the al Qaeda. The biggest obstacle to reconciliation and peace in Iraq is the Iraqi government.
Now let me say this. You talked about the performance of the military. Before the general and the ambassador came up, the end of last week, I said -- and maybe it was -- yeah, it was the end of last week -- I said that one of the tests I had as to whether General Petraeus was going to put a shine on what happened in Basra -- what we know happened in Basra is that -- well, the facts are these: that in Basra the Iraqi military planned to go into Basra because of the violence and unrest that existed there. They did not inform us until 48 hours in advance of that initiation of engagement. Why did we have to find out 48 hours in advance? They should have told us sooner. But don't we spend tens of billions of dollars on intelligence? Why didn't we know?
Secondly, he honestly responded on Monday to the Senate when he said that the Iraqi government -- the Iraqi troops did not perform up to par. And the facts are that we know that they didn't perform up to par, that the U.S. had to come in to bail them out, and the only reason that any level of peace or a reduction in violence occurred is because al-Sadr decided not to continue his side of the violence. So that determination was made by al-Sadr, not by the success of the Iraqi military.
So he gave a fairly straightforward answer, not all that I just said, but about the performance of the Iraqi troops. The next day he changed his tune as to what happened in Basra. I wonder why. Perhaps he heard from the commander in chief. I think it's time we hear from the commander in chief to these serious questions, because the president can have all the speeches he wants, he can make all the statements he wants, but we still have many unanswered questions as we continue to put our men and women in harm's way.
Q Just like the Senate, will the House hold votes on dwell time, both bills --
REP. PELOSI: We have, over and over again. Imagine that we had these votes on dwell time, that we have tried to say to the president: Let's not even have a fight over this. These are the guidelines of the Department of Defense that you don't send troops to a stint, to a deployment that is longer than the dwell time at home and that that deployment should not last longer than 12 months, which for some is too long. For some, it should only be nine months. (Cross talk.)
So yes, we will have votes.
Q How soon will you have -- (off mike)?
REP. PELOSI: Hm?
Q How soon will you guys have --
REP. PELOSI: We'll have it as soon as we do, but we have had it over and over and over again. And leaders like Mr. Skelton and leaders like Mr. Murtha have tried to persuade the administration to do this, because, as Bobby says, we're at the end of the line in terms of the readiness of our troops.
So it's not a question of whether we'll put it up. We can put it up any day of the week, and we can prevail with it, because we don't have some of the parliamentary obstacles of the Senate.
I'd remind you, remember the filibuster last summer, when we had rallies outside the Capitol supporting the United States senators who were filibustering on the floor to try to get a vote on the Webb legislation. You remember that it only came to 57 votes.
We couldn't get the 60 votes to allow a vote on the Webb resolution, which would have surely passed overwhelmingly.
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