Saturday, May 26, 2007

Constituents: Anti-war congressmen had tough choice on Iraq bill

Constituents: Anti-war congressmen had tough choice on Iraq bill

5/25/2007, 7:38 p.m. ET


The Associated Press


MEDIA, Pa. (AP) — Rep. Joe Sestak was stuck between Iraq and a hard place.

A day after the Democrat voted to approve funding the conflict through September, constituents in his suburban Philadelphia district said they understood his action — even though Sestak was elected in part on the strength of his anti-war platform.

"I'm glad they funded it. These people are soldiers. They need support," Leigh Bechtle, 57, of Media, said Friday. "It wasn't going to pass with a timetable and you can't have them not funded."

Two other Democratic war opponents from Pennsylvania with military service, Chris Carney and John Murtha, voted for the bill. Their constituents also said they understood the reality of needing to pay for a war their congressmen don't support.

The $120 billion bill approved Thursday by the House 280-142 funds the war through September but does not establish a timetable for withdrawal. The Senate approved it 80-14, and President Bush signed it Friday.

Murtha, a decorated Marine and Vietnam veteran, said in a statement that Democrats did not have the votes for a policy change now, but they might in September. Until then, he said, the bill was a necessary compromise.

"There is a point when the money for our troops in Iraq will run out, and when it does, our men and women serving courageously in Iraq will be the ones who will suffer, not this president," Murtha said.

Jim Longo, one of Murtha's constituents in western Pennsylvania, said the congressman did the right thing.

"I want them to bring them home, but I don't want to bring them home shabby," said Longo, 81, of New Kensington. "Instead of getting out completely, give them the things they need for the ones that are staying over there."

Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral, voiced similar concerns.

"I cannot vote to have these service members' safety be caught between us and someone we hope will blink — for hope is not a strategy," he said.

But if Sestak is voting for funding with no end in sight, then "he really didn't seem to have much of a plan either," said Mike Higgins, 34, of Media.

A year ago, Sestak declared the war a "tragic misadventure" and called for withdrawal of troops within 12 months. That shouldn't be forgotten, Higgins said.

"I think somehow they should be held accountable to their pre-election promises," Higgins said.

Diana Hogg, of Broomall, was more critical of Sestak's vote and said he "took the easy way out."

Hogg knows the troops in Iraq need support because she said her husband is currently serving there with the Army. But lawmakers should work to bring the troops home even if the political odds are against them, she said.

"That doesn't mean they shouldn't try," Hogg said.

Carney, a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve and former Pentagon intelligence analyst, said during his campaign that he wanted Congress to exert greater oversight over Iraq policy, particularly the war's cost.

Ruth Harvey, a senior citizen who was walking her dog in downtown Sunbury on Friday, said she wants to see the war stopped, but that Carney "didn't have any choice, I guess."

Carney's vote concerned constituent Glenn Fausey, who he said he doesn't see evidence that the U.S. has a strategy in Iraq.

"We ought to have either a timetable to get out or a better strategy for the war," said Fausey, 59, of Selinsgrove.

Bill Felix, owner of a candy store in Murtha's hometown of Johnstown, said he believes the congressman will still work to get troops home from Iraq.

"He's fought against this war and he's going to continue to fight it," said Felix, 60. "I think this is just chapter one in a book of many chapters on this thing."


Associated Press Writers Martha Raffaele in Sunbury, Pa., and Joe Mandak in New Kensington, Pa., contributed to this report.

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