- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

The Senate overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have cut off funds for U.S. combat troops in Iraq, as Democrats said that staging repeated failed votes for a pullout is a worthwhile exercise.

“There is value in doing it because I think it makes the record clearer,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat. “That’s what we do. … We live by our votes.”

The lopsided 70-28 vote was predicted even by backers of the bill by Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, because it risked criticism for not supporting troops at the battlefront.

“We’re not changing our strategy,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said shortly before the vote, adding that the tactic succeeded in making Senate Republicans claim responsibility for the war.

“We are united,” the Nevada Democrat said. “We vote together all the time. And the Republicans vote together all the time, with rare exception. And as a result of that, it’s very clear to the American people who supports President Bush’s war.”

The Feingold legislation, an amendment to the $648.8 billion Defense Authorization bill, drew ‘no’ votes from 51 Republicans, 18 Democrats and one independent.

Republicans argued the abrupt pullout of most U.S. troops and shift of the mission to noncombat operations would surrender recent military gains and hand a victory to terrorists and other rogue fighters.

“If we leave, we will be back — in Iraq and elsewhere — in many more desperate fights to protect our security and at an even greater cost in American lives and treasure,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and presidential aspirant.

No Republicans supported the amendment. It did garner support from Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois. The chamber’s other Democrat seeking the nomination, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, did not vote.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the repeated war votes serve to pacify Democrats’ antiwar base and provide fodder for the party’s campaign ads next year.

“From the country’s point of view, it is not very wise,” Mr. Graham said. “From the troops’ point of view, it is not helping at all.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, conceded that the antiwar votes were more political than practical.

“Everything in here is fodder for commercials,” he said. “[But] the American people want a debate on the war. … That’s good for the American public to see.”

The Senate then took up legislation by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island that would start a large-scale pullout in 120 days and limit remaining U.S. forces to training Iraqi troops, protecting U.S. bases, guarding the border and conducting counterterrorism missions.

The Levin-Reed amendment is expected to be defeated in a vote scheduled for this morning.

Democrats plan next week to debate a handful of other bills challenging President Bush’s war policy and vote on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

The latest round of antiwar votes comes a week after Republican support for the war policy was bolstered by a progress report from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, and by Mr. Bush’s order for a limited reduction of troop levels by spring.

Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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