Time to stand up and be counted

Senate Democrats are staging a dramatic anti-war vote this week, with moderates collaborating behind closed doors on legislation that could call on President Bush to rethink his war strategy.

Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Monday that members will decide whether to cut off money for the Iraq war next year, as well as consider a softer proposal calling for troops to leave this fall. The two measures would be offered as amendments to a water projects funding bill to be debated this week.

The votes, expected by Wednesday, will probably fall short of the 60-vote threshold usually needed to advance controversial legislation. But they will help Reid, D-Nev., test the Senate's political waters at a time when the Democratic caucus is divided on how far Congress should go to end the war.

"These are important votes," said Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau. "This will give members an opportunity to debate these issues and have up-or-down votes" on whether to end the war.

Earlier this month, Bush vetoed a $124 billion supplemental bill, which would have funded the war but demanded troops begin coming home on Oct. 1.

Not having enough votes to override the veto but unwilling to back down, House Democrats last week pushed through a new bill that would fund the war only through July. That bill is unlikely to survive the Senate, where several Democrats say they do not want to appear to be turning their backs on the troops by funding combat in installments.

"On our side of the aisle, Democrats believe they should do something very, very close to what was done in the bill that was sent to the president to be vetoed," Reid said.

Accordingly, Reid and Sen. Carl Levin proposed that the Senate vote on legislation demanding troop withdrawals begin on Oct. 1 but allowing Bush to waive that requirement.

Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called the approach the Senate's "second-best" option. "By providing for the presidential waiver, we are removing any reason for the president to veto the supplemental funding bill," he said.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush opposes the Levin amendment.

"Such timelines tie the hands of our commanders, weaken our friends, embolden our enemies and enhance the risk faced by our troops in combat," Perino said. "The bottom line is that a date for retreat is a date for retreat, and the president opposes such provisions."

Under pressure from other more liberal party members, Reid also wants to give members a chance to cut off money for combat operations after March 31, 2008. Reid co-sponsored the legislation earlier this year alongside Sen. Russ Feingold, but he said he would not push it as a caucus position.

"The American people deserve to have the Senate go on record about whether or not it wants to end our misguided mission in Iraq and safely redeploy our brave troops," said Feingold, D-Wis.

The votes come as nearly a dozen Republican senators have been discussing possible legislation on the war, including a proposal by Sen. John Warner that would call on the president to re-evaluate his Iraq strategy if the Baghdad government does not meet certain benchmarks.

"We're trying to put together a single document" that would address concerns of GOP senators, Warner, R-Va., said in an interview.

Warner said he personally backs requiring reports before the August recess and in September on the extent to which Iraqis are making progress on political and security reforms.

Warner said he wants to get a report by July at least "so members of Congress have an evaluation of that situation as they presumably go back to their respective constituencies." If the Baghdad government fails in meeting the benchmarks, "then the president is to determine whether he is to revise the strategy that he laid forward," he added.

Warner said he has been discussing the idea with the group and plans to talk about it Tuesday with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. The goal, he said, is to develop a proposal that attracts broad bipartisan support.

The list of Republicans working with Warner include Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

Nelson has drafted similar legislation that would go even further. If the Iraqis failed to make progress on certain political and security reforms, the U.S. would cut off reconstruction aid. Under the bill, the president could waive the restriction if he provides public justification.

Nelson's bill also would require the U.S. commander in Iraq to testify by Sept. 15 on whether Bush's troop buildup around Baghdad is working.

"The Senate needs to move forward," Nelson said. "The president has signaled he will accept reasonable benchmarks."

The alliance of Nelson and Warner and other moderates on Iraq is reminiscent of the "Gang of 14," a group of senators who in 2005 drafted a compromise to end a Senate fight on judicial nominations.

4 Responses to "Time to stand up and be counted"

  1. Bat  May 15, 2007 at 10:59 am

    I can see the logic on both sides of the fence–we want out of this awful war in the worst way, but it would be rather foolhardy to give the enemy a date for our withdrawal, would it not?
    Perhaps the best solution would be to for Congress to rescind permission to wage this war, and then see what that leads to. That would make the war illegal, and would it then be up to them to get us out of it? I don’t know any answers, but the questions continue to mount, and our participation in the war isn’t going to go away without some serious work. Perhaps impeachment is the final answer.

  2. ty_meissner  May 15, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Hi Doug Thompson,

    1. Just want to let you know that my login ID is the name I am known by, everywhere and every day. Its my legal name. By the way: I have never made any incindiary comments nor have I posted conspiracy theories, even though some conspiracies are real and some are recorded by history. For instance Karl Rove conspired with Justice Department officials to suppress the Democratic vote in 2004 and 2006 elections.

    2. Its high time we pulled our troops out of Iraq. The comment that setting a timeline would give “our enemy” an advantage is ridiculous. People who say this don’t have a clue as to who our “enemy” is. In reality, “our enemy” is the 85% of the Iraqi people who want us out of our country. That includes Sunni and Shia Moslems as well as a tiny number who identify themselves as “Al Quaida in Iraq.” Certainly there will be “a bloodbath” in Iraq when we pull out. There is a bloodbath going on NOW. It may intensify when we leave; there is nothing we can do to prevent it. No American leader is able to define “victory” in Iraq. The real victory is when we no longer have brave young Americans being killed at a rate of 100 a month and the only way that can happen is for us to leave.

  3. doneck  May 15, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Bat writes that “it would be rather foolhardy to give the enemy a date for our withdrawal, would it not?” I think not. Do you think the enemy (enemies?) would fight us harder just for the delight of punishing us, or instead let up awhile until we are gone, and then resume the civil war in earnest? Al Qaeda might feel one way (punish), and the Sunni and Shia Iraqis might feel the other way (good riddance).

  4. Dayahka  May 15, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    The Democrats are doing exactly what Bush wants. What Bush wants above anything else is to pass the blame for a “lost” war to the Democrats.

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