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Oregon legislators offer paltry support for Bush

and Julia Silverman

PORTLAND &

Building on his earlier calls for a change of course in the Iraq war, U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., has thrown his weight behind a nonbinding resolution that rejects President Bush's proposal to increase U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

Smith's decision to sign on as a co-sponsor of the resolution offered by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is just the latest sign that the once-unified GOP front on the war is splintering as polls show rising public disenchantment with the conflict.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Smith said he felt the war had "devolved far beyond what we authorized," placing U.S. troops at risk amid a sectarian war rooted in political and religious conflicts.

"Who is the proper successor to Mohammed is not our fight," Smith said.

As one of only a handful of Republicans to publicly question the president's plans, Smith's actions are being closed watched in Washington by the White House and on Capitol Hill. He said he wasn't certain how many other Republicans would join him, but added that "the dissatisfaction and disappointment is very real in the Republican conference."

Smith, whose term is up in 2008, said he is planning on running for re-election. His surprise speech in December criticizing Bush prompted some Democrats in Oregon to accuse him of political pandering to voters in what has become an increasingly blue state.

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a potential Smith challenger in 2008 said, "The more that we can get people sending alternative signals, even if they are not particularly strong, the better. Bear in mind, these are the cheerleaders for what the president has done. For them to change position like this is very helpful."

Blumenauer, who said he'd like to see Smith and others go beyond a nonbinding resolution, said he plans to unveil a plan to scale down the presence of American troops in Iraq this week.

Reaction from military families to his change of heart on the war has so far been "mixed" Smith said Tuesday. So far, 79 members of the military with ties to Oregon have been killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan, according to numbers tracked by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., issued a statement saying, "Thus far, the President has not convinced me that overstretching our military even further is going to make a bit of difference in Iraq and I will oppose the troop increase that he has proposed. Iraq is on the brink of all-out civil war and only the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can make the tough choices necessary to reach a political settlement and stabilize the country."

Wyden said he was pleased that Bush's plan reforms the tax code but was disappointed that it did not address the practice by insurance companies of "cherry picking" healthy people. Wyden, who has proposed a comprehensive bill to offer universal health insurance coverage, said he spoke to White House officials Tuesday night and pledged to work with them.

From the CEO of Safeway to union leaders, Wyden said his plan has attracted "a widespread coalition that can help them find common ground" with congressional Democrats.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said Bush's proposal provides a starting point for Congress. "Because health insurance affordability weighs heavily on many Oregon families, I am pleased the president reiterated his commitment to expanding health insurance coverage for uninsured Americans," he said.

Walden, co-chairman of the bipartisan House Rural Health Care Coalition, said he was especially interested in how the plan would affect rural health care delivery.

Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., was pleased that Bush focused on reducing health care costs, but said "prices continue to rise each year with no end in sight."