- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

Senate Democratic leaders yesterday injected the Iraq war debate into a $14 billion water projects bill, offering two troop-withdrawal amendments to help gauge Republican solidarity with President Bush.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada co-sponsored both amendments with fellow Democrats; one with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin that would restrict war funds to noncombat operations, and the other with Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan that would pull out troops if the Iraqi government does not meet policy benchmarks.

The Reid-Levin amendment is the less severe of the two, allowing Mr. Bush to waive the troop-withdrawal requirement provided he explain the continued deployment to Congress every 90 days.

“This is an opportunity to see how far Republicans will go on the supplemental,” a top Democratic aide said.

Votes on the amendments are expected today, while negotiations continue on a $100 billion emergency supplemental package to pay for the war until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

“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,” Mr. Feingold said.

Mr. Bush on May 1 vetoed a war-funding bill that included similar provisions to withdraw troops beginning as soon as July but no later than October if Iraqis do not meet goals such as reducing sectarian violence, establishing a militia-disarmament program and enacting laws to share oil revenue.

“By providing for the presidential waiver, we are removing any reason for the president to veto the supplemental funding bill,” Mr. Levin said.

The Democrat’s razor-thin majority gives Republicans the power to kill the amendments with a filibuster today or to let it go to a vote tomorrow, when it would face long odds for passage.

Senate Republicans, in an agreement with the White House designed to expedite the process, did not filibuster the war-funding bill last month so it could quickly meet Mr. Bush’s veto pen.

House Democrats last week ignored Mr. Bush’s veto threat again and passed a bill that rations war funding two months at a time and sets up a potential August troop withdrawal. The Senate is expected to vote on another war-funding bill by the end of the week.

Although it likely will be less objectionable to Mr. Bush than the House measure, the Democratic leadership continues to pursue an end to combat operations in Iraq, which is unacceptable to the White House.

In a reversal from his demand for war funds free of conditions or restrictions, the president last week said he will consider a bill that measures Iraqi progress on goals such as reducing sectarian violence, establishing a militia-disarmament program and enacting laws to share oil revenue.

“One message I have heard from people from both parties is that the idea of benchmarks makes sense and I agree,” Mr. Bush said at the Pentagon on Thursday. White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, who has led war-funding negotiations with Congress, has been charged by the president to “find common ground on benchmarks.”

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