The White House is likely to face its most significant confrontation with Congress so far over its handling of the Iraq war after House Democrats agreed on Thursday on plans to debate a simple resolution next week that would oppose the escalation of the war but express support for funding the troops already on the ground.

Agreement on the non-binding resolution could attract the support of disaffected Republicans and enable a symbolic bipartisan expression of no confidence in the Iraq policy. The shift of focus to the House comes after the Senate Republican leadership this week stymied debate on a non-binding Iraq war resolution by exploiting procedural motions.

Steny Hoyer, House majority leader, said Democrats had stepped up oversight of Iraq policy holding 22 oversight hearings over Iraq and Afghanistan in the past four weeks, and would next week hold three days of debate on Iraq. “Frankly, for four years the Congress has been complacent and complicit, therefore, in the policies that have been pursued. We have not conducted vigorous oversight, and we have not taken Congress’s proper role in the articulation of and setting of policy.”

Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said: “At one time they [the administration] said ‘No, this is merely a symbolic vote that has no meaning’, and yet they have fought it tooth-and-nail to ever come to the floor in the Senate. They can’t do that in the House. Clearly, it has an impact because it’s an expression of the House of Representatives, the elected members closest to the American people.”

However, John Boehner, House minority leader, attacked the coming debate as “nothing more than political theatre that means nothing. And I believe that it demoralises our troops in the field.” If Democrats were serious about ending the war they should vote to cut off funding.

Although the Senate Republicans scored a temporary legislative victory in preventing an embarrassing vote against the president, the tactics have split the party. On Wednesday night seven Republican senators wrote to Senate leaders threatening to attach a resolution opposing the surge in troops to any bill sent to the floor in the coming weeks. The group, which includes John Warner, Chuck Hagel, Norm Coleman and Susan Collins, vowed to “explore all of our options under the Senate procedures and practices to ensure a full and open debate”.

While the appearance of obstructionism has damaged the party, Vin Weber, a Republican strategist, said: “There has been no winner, but in the longer run the Democrats incurred a greater loss this week as they demonstrated to the anti-war movement that they were incapable of passing even a non-binding resolution against the war. That will stoke the anti-war movement who will demand they cut off war funding.”

Some Democrats have backed calls for that more aggressive action, but most are reluctant to withdraw funding.

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