- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2007

Senate Democrats switched tactics yesterday in the war debate by proposing an Oct. 11 sunset date for the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq, seeking to force President Bush to ask Congress for permission to keep troops in Iraq.

The plan moves Democrats away from troop-withdrawal timetables, which Mr. Bush defeated with his veto pen Tuesday, and puts the onus on the president to justify a continued war effort.

“The 2002 authorization to use force has run its course,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

He announced the planned legislation jointly with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat who serves alongside Mr. Byrd on the Armed Services Committee.

“It is time — past time — to decommission this authorization and retire it to the archives,” Mr. Byrd said on the Senate floor. “The president must redefine the goals and submit his plan to achieve them to a thorough and open debate in the Congress and throughout the country. That is the American way.”

Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in the 2008 presidential race who has struggled to explain her 2002 vote for the war, said the deauthorization legislation would answer Mr. Bush’s veto of the pullout plan.

“If the president will not bring himself to accept reality, it is time for Congress to bring reality to him,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The sponsors say the maneuver also undercuts Mr. Bush’s argument that the troop surge in Baghdad needs time to work. The cutoff date comes a month after a scheduled progress report by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who says he will be able to tell in September whether the surge is working.

Still, Mr. Bush would have the same veto power over any bill to which a sunset provision was attached, and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino derided the proposal as political posturing.

“Here we go again. The Senate is trying another way to put a surrender date on the calendar. Welcome to politics ‘08-style,” Mrs. Perino said, referring to the presidential race.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the deauthorization ploy was a distraction from the troop-funding debate.

“No matter how you may feel about the effort to secure Iraq, providing the funds to our troops should be everyone’s top priority,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.

The gambit came as Mr. Bush’s top aides sat down with Democrats on Capitol Hill to discuss the Iraq war in the first serious overture by both sides to cooperate. Both sides came armed with ideas and notebooks and talked for about 45 minutes. They agreed to meet again early next week and not to divulge details to outsiders in the spirit of cooperation.

“There is nothing off the table — including timetables. Nothing,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

His words were directed at peace activists who have unleashed their wrath against Democratic leaders in Congress for indicating that they will back down from Mr. Bush and nix a troop-pullout timetable from the war funding bill.

“If they prove unable to stand up and do the job they were elected to do, there is no telling what will happen next [election] time,” said Dana Balicki, national organizer for Code Pink, a feminist group opposing the war in Iraq.

“It’s about what you do, not what you say,” she said. “We will hold them accountable.”

Cindy Sheehan, the activist who famously picketed the president at his Texas ranch, says her least favorite politician now is Mrs. Clinton because of her “unflinching support of George Bush’s war.”

“She thinks she has to act like a Republican to win this election,” Mrs. Sheehan, whose son Casey joined the Army and was killed in Iraq in 2004, told the Hill newspaper.

Congressional Democrats also got a stern warning from Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, an umbrella organization for liberal groups with an anti-war agenda, including MoveOn.org and Service Employees International Union.

“Those who fail to stand up to the president will be hearing from us,” spokeswoman Moira Mack said.

“The Congress was elected in November with a mandate to bring a responsible end to the war and end the president’s reckless policy,” she said. “We expect them to do that.”

Mr. Bush this week vetoed the effort by the Democrat-led Congress to insert a pullout plan into the $124 billion bill to pay for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The Pentagon needs the cash to equip and supply combat forces and has already started stop-gap measures to cover costs until July. The timetable would have started the pullout as soon as July 1 if Iraqis failed to meet policy benchmarks but no later than Oct. 1.

Another presidential contender, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, took aim at the entire Congress by airing a TV ad Wednesday challenging his fellow Democrats: “Don’t back down to President Bush.”

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat dismissed that criticism, saying of Mr. Edwards: “He’s not in the Senate — I am.”

Republican leaders in both chambers say they are open to nonbinding benchmarks, although Mr. Bush opposes them, as does the Democrat’s powerful anti-war caucus. Mr. Reid and House Democratic leaders have said they can turn to other legislation — including upcoming Defense Department budget bills — to confront Mr. Bush’s war policy.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said they dropped timetables from the negotiations, but they would not give the president a “blank check.”

“Everything else is on the table,” he said.

Several Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and Rep. Adam H. Putnam of Florida, have said they are open to restricting the more than $5 billion in aid to Iraq if the Baghdad government does not meet certain benchmarks on political reform and other milestones. Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, is working on a similar proposal.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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