- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Senators voted yesterday to start an Iraq debate, as Republicans for the first time let the debate happen although they have no intention of giving the Democrats a final vote on a bill calling for troop withdrawal by next March.

The Senate voted 89-9 to begin debating a binding resolution that calls for starting to pull out troops within four months, with all soldiers out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. The proposal drew an immediate veto threat from President Bush.

The legislation asserts Congress will “support and protect” troops serving “bravely and honorably in Iraq,” but notes circumstances have “changed substantially” since legislators approved war authorization in October 2002.

If passed, the resolution would allow for some troops to remain in Iraq for counterterrorism operations, infrastructure protection and training of Iraqi forces. It also calls for Mr. Bush to give progress reports every 90 days.

“Democrats are united in our efforts to transition the mission in Iraq and redeploy our troops so that America can maximize the chances for success in Iraq and better fight the war on terror,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “America cannot stay in Iraq forever.”

The White House quickly issued a veto threat, despite the unlikelihood of the plan getting the 60 votes it would need to pass.

The resolution “infringes upon the constitutional authority of the president as commander in chief by imposing an artificial timeline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, regardless of the conditions on the ground or the consequences of defeat,” administration officials said.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the plan “the memo our enemies have been waiting for,” adding: “Setting a date certain for withdrawal will send a chill up the spine of every Iraqi who has dared to stand with America.”

Mr. Reid criticized his Republican colleagues for blocking the debate for more than a month, and said this debate may last less than 48 hours.

“Agreeing to a debate is not enough,” he said. “Republicans must heed the voices of their constituents and the overwhelming majority of Americans and vote to change the president’s flawed Iraq policy.”

The Senate measure differs from a House plan that Democrats plan to have on the floor for a vote next week. House Democratic leaders have attached a requirement that all troops be out of Iraq by September 2008 to Mr. Bush’s emergency supplemental spending request for the Iraq war and added nearly $20 billion in funds for veterans and the Gulf Coast. The bill, now worth more than $120 billion, will have its first vote today in the House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. McConnell explained why his caucus was willing to have this debate after blocking several others: “It’s different in kind from any previous Democratic proposal. It is unprecedented in the powers it would arrogate to the Congress in a time of war … its passage would be absolutely fatal to our mission in Iraq.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, hoping to push Republicans into a political jam on Iraq, yesterday released a new campaign video targeting vulnerable senators, saying that senators who follow Mr. Bush’s “failed stay-the-course strategy … do so at their own peril.”

Democrats say the debate gives them a chance to force Republicans to take a stance on a timetable for troop withdrawal, which polls show that most Americans now favor.

“This one-year deadline is anything but arbitrary, the Iraq Study Group endorsed it, General [George] Casey said it, and even President Bush says that under his new strategy, responsibility for security will be transferred to Iraqis” by year’s end, said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. “We need a deadline to make that goal a reality.”

Mr. Reid has been able to bridge the differing opinions in his caucus, with liberal Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin joining Mr. Kerry in calling for the resolution to pass even though he does not think it is strong enough.

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