Senate GOP votes down Democrats' latest war bill
Republicans balk at fast withdrawal
WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans yesterday blocked Democrats' latest effort to end the Iraq war, rejecting a $50 billion military funding package that would have required President Bush to begin withdrawing US troops.
The 53-to-45 vote fell seven short of the 60 votes needed and signaled that the contours of the war debate, now nearing its one-year anniversary, have barely changed. An alternative GOP proposal, which would have provided $70 billion with no strings attached, failed 53 to 45, falling 15 votes short.
The Democratic version was approved by the House earlier this week. It would have required President Bush to start a phased redeployment of US forces within 30 days of enactment, while shifting the military role in Iraq to specific missions.
Those include protecting American diplomatic facilities, assisting Iraqi security forces, and engaging in targeted counterterrorism operations. It set a Dec. 15, 2008, goal for completing the process.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said he might bring the Democratic bill back to the floor in December. He and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, have agreed that Bush will not receive more war funding this year unless he accepts Democratic withdrawal terms.
That is out of the question, said White House spokesman Tony Fratto, who dismissed the Democratic vote as a political stunt.
"Once again, they tried to pass a bill that provides incremental funding [and] tries to micromanage the war from the halls of Congress," said Fratto. Democrats "know that such a bill will be vetoed, should it ever come to the president's desk. They know this because we've been through this dozens of times."
In May, Bush vetoed an Iraq spending bill that contained Democratic withdrawal conditions, and Congress backed off.
Reid and Pelosi said they would not consider a new approach to the funding request until January. In the meantime, they said, the Pentagon could draw from its $471 billion annual budget to cover war expenses.
But Fratto said the funding crunch could hurt military efforts, including training of Iraqi forces that is crucial to ending the US role in the country.
Reid refused to yield. "Our troops continue to fight and die, and our treasury continues to be depleted, for a peace that we seem far more interested in achieving than Iraq's own political leaders," he said. "Our bill sets a reasonable goal for the end of combat operations."
Republicans said they expected to win the funding showdown eventually, as they did this summer, owing to the mathematical reality of the Democrats 51 to 49 majority in the Senate.
"The Democrat leaders are going to have to finally swallow their political pride here, I guess, and provide funding for the troops," said Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, a member of the GOP leadership.
Although Republican lawmakers concede that the American public has turned against the Iraq conflict, they have been unwilling to use their legislative powers to tie Bush's hands.
Four Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure: senators Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins of Maine, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut was the only Democrat to oppose it, saying it did not go far enough to end the war.
The Democratic terms rejected yesterday are less stringent than they were in previous measures. For example, the current bill sets a goal, instead of a deadline, for withdrawal. But with a veto threat looming, the bill failed to convert any new Republican supporters.