By SUSAN CORNWELL
Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Sunday warned Republicans not to block consideration of a measure opposing President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq, saying it would be a “terrible mistake” to prevent debate on the top issue in America.
With a Senate vote set for Monday on whether to consider the bipartisan resolution, Feinstein warned that if the nonbinding measure is blocked, even tougher proposals against the president’s Iraq policy will surface before long.
“It’s obstructionism,” the California senator fumed about Senate Republican leaders’ strategy to prevent debate on the resolution by Sens. John Warner, a Virginia Republican, and Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.
The proposal by Warner and Levin says lawmakers “disagree” with Bush’s decision last month to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, although it would not force the president’s hand.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on Friday that even Warner and other Republicans who backed the resolution would vote to block debate on it unless at least two Republican alternatives could also be considered.
“This is not tolerable, in a situation where it’s the number one topic in the nation and the Republican party prevents the Senate” from debate, Feinstein declared on CNN’s “Late Edition” program.
“If we can’t get this done, you can be sure that a month or so down the pike, there’s going to be much stronger legislation,” she said.
Funding for the war will be examined, she said, and there could also be a move by lawmakers to rewrite the authorization of the use of force in Iraq approved by Congress in 2002.
Separately, the White House budget director said the budget for the Iraq war assumes the conflict continues at current levels at least through fiscal 2008, which begins on October 1.
“We’re assuming that the Iraq military operations will continue pretty much as they are,” Rob Portman told CNN.
If Republicans follow through on McConnell’s threat, it could well stop the resolution by Levin, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, and Warner, the former chairman.
Sixty votes are needed to bring a proposal up for debate, and there are only 51 Democrats in the Senate. Further, one Democrat, South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, is seriously ill, and an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, supports Bush’s policy.
One of the alternatives Republicans want considered would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet to quell sectarian violence. The other alternative might oppose any funding cutoff for the extra U.S. troops, Senate aides said.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Indiana’s Richard Lugar, defended plans to block the Warner-Levin resolution, saying that because it was nonbinding it was “of no consequence.”
The resolution’s supporters sought to “simply have a debate for the sake of it,” Lugar said on CNN. “Some may find that edifying, but it seems to me we probably ought to proceed on the budget.”
John Edwards, a Democratic presidential hopeful and former senator who thinks Congress should block funding for the additional troops, urged a strong stand by Congress. The White House probably assumed Congress would “talk about it … but at the end of the day we’ll go along,” Edwards said.
“We cannot go along,” Edwards said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
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