Matheson: Congress politicizing Iraq

By overpoliticizing the debate about the war in Iraq, both Democrats and Republicans are making it difficult to find a solution to the conflict, Utah Congressman Jim Matheson said.

Although President George Bush has threatened to veto any legislation setting a date to withdraw U.S. troops, Matheson, a conservative Democrat, said the two parties have made finding common ground on the issue difficult.

“There is a lot we could be doing to create greater accountability…if the two parties would stop trying to leverage this issue for the next election,” he said. “And it could be done.”

Matheson, who represents Utah’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives, made his comments during a forum at the U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Tuesday.

He didn’t give any specific examples of legislation about Iraq both parties could agree on — Senate Republicans have repeatedly used the threat of a filibuster to kill bills that would set a timetable to withdraw troops.

Instead, Matheson talked about a bipartisan war-funding bill that would have simply required Bush to create a plan for withdrawal. He said the bill had broad support in both houses of Congress, but Bush vetoed it.

“What we need in this part of the world is not a military solution,” Matheson said. “It’s a political issue, and a diplomatic issue and an economic issue.”

Matheson said Congress and Bush should consider following some of the 117 recommendations made by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group more than a year ago. Bush largely ignored the recommendations, which called for a phased withdrawal of troops.

He also talked to the crowd of students about less-publicized efforts of Congress.

“We tend to focus on the sensational and the negative,” Matheson said. “There are a lot of issues going on, but most of them don’t get reported.”

Matheson said he wrote a bill that provides funding for researchers to develop wireless communication devices so miners trapped underground by collapses can talk to rescue workers. He said the Crandall Canyon Mine cave-in that killed six Utah miners this summer prompted him to write the legislation.

He also talked about his work in water conservation — which he said is a growing problem for Utah and other states — and his work to create the Green School’s Caucus.

Matheson similarly touted his efforts as a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats. He said the group has pushed to restore the “pay-as-you-go” rule that prevents Congress from creating programs or spending money without first determining how it will be funded.

Matheson defended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from critics, saying she is managing a diverse group of Democrats. He credited her with restoring fiscal responsibility to the House rules.

“Who would have thought it would have been someone from San Francisco to put in the (pay-as-you-go) rule and say we’re going to live within our means from now on?” he said.

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Lennie Mahler

A student passerby looks into the Hinckley Caucus Room in OSH as Congressman Jim Matheson speaks to students in a lecture on Tuesday.