Arriving on the Hill, Melinda and I made a beeline for the office of Rep. Jack Murtha, the man most responsible for the Democrats seizing control of the 110th Congress (other than George Bush, that is).
His office is filled with military memorabilia and reminders of the troops serving in Iraq: a civil war hat worn by his grandfather, who lost an arm in the war; dog tags from a soldier wounded in Iraq; a clock given to him by Missy Hall, whose husband was the first soldier from Murtha's district to lose his life in Iraq.
Murtha recently spoke at Missy's graduation from nursing school, and her Christmas card with her children is prominently displayed on his desk.
As always with Murtha, the first thing he wants to talk about is the state of our troops -- both in Iraq and when they return home wounded (and all-too-often neglected). He's particularly distressed about the way the last Congress cut funding for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries, which have been dubbed "the signature injury of the Iraq war." Murtha is a regular visitor to Washington's Walter Reed hospital, headquarters for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, and has seen first-hand the devastation wrought by these kinds of injuries.
When we asked about the likelihood of the president sending additional troops to Iraq, Murtha was adamant. "The only way you can have a troop surge," he told us, "is to extend the tours of people whose tours have already been extended, or to send back people who have just gotten back home." He explained at length how our military forces are already stretched to the breaking point, with our strategic reserve so depleted we are unprepared to face any additional threats to the country. So does that mean there will be no surge? Murtha offered us a "with Bush anything is possible" look, then said: "Money is the only way we can stop it for sure."
To this end, Murtha, the incoming Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, is planning to hold wide-ranging hearings, starting January 17th, that will focus on the depleted state of our military readiness , as well as contractor corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal is to turn the spotlight on how drained the military has become, and on how any talk of a troop surge is utterly irresponsible (as well as strategically misguided). "The public," he said repeatedly, "is already ahead of us on all this.
He says he wants to "fence the funding," denying the president the resources to escalate the war, instead using the money to take care of the soldiers as we bring them home from Iraq "as soon as we can."
Murtha's passion for our troops and the families they've left behind is palpable, and has left him energized and ready to, once again, lead the charge on Iraq.