- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Congressional Democrats are looking ahead to the next stage of the political battle over Iraq cutting off funds for war operations after March though it puts lawmakers eyeing the White House in a bind.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill to do that, but which so far has support from only the most-liberal members of the chamber. One supporter is Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and a presidential hopeful who has challenged the other 2008 candidates to join him.

“Now is a time for clarity and courage not obfuscation and waffling. Now is a time for leadership not putting your finger to the political wind,” said Christy Setzer, a Dodd spokeswoman. “Those who would be president should display the leadership needed to stand up for a new direction in Iraq and for American security, and join Chris Dodd in supporting this important legislation.”

Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, is the author of the measure, which Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, signed onto this month and has said he wants to bring up for a vote. Such a vote would force the 2008 presidential candidates to go on record again for a plan that has minor differences from what they are pushing on the campaign stump.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, often promises on the campaign trail that if President Bush does not withdraw troops before January 2009, “When I’m president, I will.”

But the specifics of her proposed Iraq plan actually would keep a number of troops in the region to protect “remaining vital national security interests in Iraq,” according to an interview with Mrs. Clinton last month detailed in the New York Times.

“It would be far fewer troops,” she said. “We would not be doing patrols. We would not be kicking in doors.”

Her plan would cap the number of troops that can be deployed to Iraq at the January 2007 level before Mr. Bush announced he would send a “surge” of new troops. It also would block funds unless the Pentagon certifies that U.S. troops are adequately trained and equipped, and would cut off funding for Iraqi security forces.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, has proposed beginning a phased withdrawal of combat troops immediately with the goal for all troops to be out by March. It would allow for a small number of troops to remain in Iraq and includes a series of benchmarks for the Iraqi government.

“The president’s escalation of U.S. forces may bring a temporary reduction in the violence in Baghdad, at the price of increased U.S. casualties, though the experience so far is not encouraging,” Mr. Obama said in a speech yesterday in Chicago. “But it cannot change the political dynamic in Iraq. A phased withdrawal can.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, wants to start withdrawing troops and then divide Iraq into three mostly autonomous regions with a weak central government in Baghdad. His plan includes the sharing of oil revenues.

None of the plans takes the Feingold-Reid bill’s more-dramatic step of actually cutting off funds for the war.

The White House hopefuls are campaigning across the country as Congress continues to battle Mr. Bush over a supplemental war-spending bill.

The Feingold proposal, like war-funding legislation that Democrats agreed on yesterday, also sets a date for withdrawing combat troops. It states that after March 31, Congress will only appropriate funds in Iraq for counterterrorism missions, security for U.S. personnel and the training of Iraqi security forces. But the deal reached yesterday by Democrats in a House-Senate conference merely sets goals and does not cut off money for U.S. forces in Iraq.

The Democratic senators seeking their party’s 2008 nomination face questions on the campaign trail about Iraq policy, and some are asked to explain or apologize for their October 2002 vote to go to war.

Of all the senators running, only Mr. Obama opposed the war from its inception. First elected in 2004, Mr. Obama was not in the Senate when lawmakers gave Mr. Bush the authorization to use force in Iraq.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Sam Brownback of Kansas, both presidential candidates, voted for the war in 2002 and this year opposed the Democratic war-spending bill, which calls for troop withdrawal.

The four Democratic senators running for president all voted for the bill, and all the 2008 candidates will face another vote on the House-Senate compromise of the bill this week.

There is little chance Mr. Bush would embrace the plan. The president said yesterday it is a “mistake” for Congress to “micromanage” the war, but leaders say they want to keep trying with different versions of bills that bring troops home.

“Since the president refuses to change his failed Iraq policy, that responsibility falls on Congress,” Mr. Feingold said.

Mr. Reid said in a speech yesterday that “our president is wrong, and the new Congress will show him the way.”

“We may not be able to prevent President Bush from vetoing our supplemental bill, but we can and will keep trying to change his mind,” he said.

In the House, presidential candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich is pushing his own plan to cut troop funding and use the money to completely withdraw and close all U.S. military bases in Iraq.

“We should not give the president another dime for the war,” the Ohio Democrat said Thursday, though House Democrats mostly dismiss his effort for cutting off funds.

Mr. Kucinich today will push another idea that makes Democratic leaders uncomfortable; he is introducing articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney.

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