- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Senate Republicans yesterday pledged not to block the beginning of debate on a Democratic resolution that calls for all U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq by March 2008.

“I think we’re going to proceed because we don’t mind having the debate,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, adding that Republicans still have misgivings about the bill.

“It moves us down the roads towards further micromanaging the troops and having a date specific for an exit,” said the Kentucky Republican. “It’s not at all clear at this point how this week’s debate on Iraq is going to play out.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he welcomed the debate if Republicans in fact support a procedural vote expected today that would allow debate.

“It seems to me they are having trouble making up their mind what they want to do in Iraq,” Mr. Reid said. “I can understand why because they are in a deep hole and they are trying to get out of that hole.”

He also voiced uncertainty that Democrats had enough votes to pass the bill, if it gets that far.

Mr. Reid said that without Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent Democrat who staunchly supports the Iraq war, his caucus starts with 49 votes one vote short of the simple majority needed to pass the legislation.

“It’s hard to get to 50 even with modern math,” Mr. Reid said.

Republicans likely will kill the bill with a filibuster if they remain dissatisfied with the legislation or if Democrats refuse a broader debate of Iraq policy, said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.

“This bill is going down,” he said.

The bill requires a “phased redeployment” of forces from Iraq to begin 120 days after the resolution is enacted, with the goal of a complete withdrawal of combat troops by March 2008.

Senate Democrats have pursued 17 different resolutions voicing opposition to the war with only one so far getting close to a vote.

Republicans last month used a procedural move to block debate of that nonbinding resolution against Mr. Bush’s plan for a surge of 21,500 more troops into Iraq. Mr. Bush recently upped the surge to about 26,000 troops.

Senate Democrats said the minority members had grown weary of appearing to be obstructionists.

In the House, the Appropriations Committee hopes to approve a similar measure attached to a $124.1 billion spending bill that would provide funds to U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill also has sweeteners in it, such as new aid to farmers and Southern states rebuilding after hurricanes that hit in 2005.

Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the Democratic chairman of the panel, wants to add conditions to the war money that would bring U.S. troops home from Iraq by August 2008 at the latest.

Even if the bill is approved by Mr. Obey’s panel, it faces tough going in the full House. It is opposed by some liberals, who think it does not get troops out fast enough, as well as by some conservatives, who worry about directing the war from the halls of Congress.

The vote “will be closer than we would like,” confided one senior House Democrat who asked not to be identified and said the measure might not make it to the House floor next week.

“Congress should approve the funds our troops are counting on without strings and without delay,” White House budget director Rob Portman said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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