By ANNE FLAHERTY
A lengthy Senate floor debate on the Iraq war is inevitable, despite a Republican effort to block it, Democrats say.
Following a procedural vote Monday that sidetracked a resolution on the war, Democrats said they would eventually find a way to put each senator on record. On the table is a nonbinding resolution backed by several Republicans and most Democrats that would state Senate opposition to President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.
“The president must hear from Congress, so he knows he stands in the wrong place Ã¢â‚¬â€ alone,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The measure, if passed, would be a stinging critique of Bush’s decision to deepen the U.S. military commitment in Iraq. Bush has said the extra troops are needed to calm sectarian violence in Baghdad and the western Anbar province.
Republicans denied assertions that they were trying to block a vote on the measure, saying that they were seeking fair rules and consideration of a GOP alternative measure.
“As far as stalling, we’ve got a week here where we can have a full debate. But we insist on it being a full debate and a fair one,” said Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Negotiations on how to move forward on the debate were expected to continue Tuesday, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates headed to Capitol Hill to testify on Bush’s $624.6 billion request in defense spending. The spending request marks the first time Bush has offered an estimate of how much the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost a year in advance.
Gates planned to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Tina Jonas, the Pentagon comptroller.
While the hefty budget will be a primary focus, panel members were expected to use the venue to air their grievances on Iraq.
The two political parties were at odds Monday after Democrats refused to give equal consideration during the debate to a Republican proposal by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., which would protect funding for troops in combat.
While Democrats are largely supportive of the Gregg measure, they want to limit debate to only two proposals: one by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that states opposition to the troop buildup, and another by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would support the president’s position.
Several leading Democrats have endorsed Warner’s measure, including Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, but many Republicans were reluctant to say how they would vote. Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire, George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania were each considered GOP wild cards in the vote.
Specter said he wanted to hear out other members before deciding what to do.
“It’s a big issue,” Specter said. “We need to debate it.”
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