- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Senate Democrats yesterday vowed to resurrect their legislative effort to pull combat troops out of Iraq by next March, as their House colleagues struggled to build support for a similar measure tied to emergency war funding.

“I think we have a very good opportunity [to pass] this one,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, adding that the withdrawal timetable likely will be attached to the chamber’s version of an emergency war funding bill this week.

The Nevada Democrat hopes to pick up “a handful of additional Republican votes” to avoid a repeat of the Senate’s rejection of the withdrawal resolution Thursday in a 50-48 vote near party lines.

“The Republicans might have been high-fiving themselves at the end of last week, but the fact is they are at odds with the American people,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. “This is part of an ongoing series of efforts to change the course in Iraq.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, says his caucus will oppose legislation that seeks to micromanage the war, and President Bush has threatened to veto such measures.

“They should stop these measures and give General [David] Petraeus the five or six months he needs to see if this surge works, as it appears to be,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and staunch war supporter.

Mr. Lieberman said he was disappointed that Democrats would keep pushing a measure that was voted down just last week and noted that sectarian violence has diminished and the economy has improved slightly in Baghdad neighborhoods where U.S. forces have established a presence.

The Senate bill is expected to be marked up tomorrow in the Appropriations Committee and be debated on the floor next week.

In the House, Democratic leaders conceded that they didn’t have the 218 votes needed to pass an emergency war spending bill that requires all combat troops to leave Iraq by September 2008 or sooner if benchmarks are not met. The vote is scheduled for tomorrow.

“We are closer to the 218 today than we were yesterday, and we will be closer tomorrow,” said Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat.

Leaders have been carefully cultivating support for weeks among liberal anti-war Democrats who want an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and conservative Blue Dogs opposed to measures that withhold funding from or hinder operations of troops in the field.

He dismissed reports that he must contend with opposition to the bill organized by anti-war members of the leadership, including Chief Deputy Majority Whip Maxine Waters, California Democrat and chairman of the 76-member Out of Iraq Caucus.

Mr. Clyburn also pointed to newfound support for the bill by MoveOn.Org, a liberal grass-roots organization that until last weekend opposed the legislation.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland yesterday took an unusually harsh tone against critics who say Democrats are micromanaging the war from Washington.

Dismissing the charge as “dead, flat wrong,” the Democratic leader said Congress allows the generals on the ground to lead but added that lawmakers have the duty to exercise the “best judgment as it relates to the policy questions, declaring and ending war.”

The Democratic leader distributed a memo about prominent Republicans who supported a fixed timeline for troop withdrawal from Bosnia in 1997. The list includes House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

House Republicans are trying to compel debate on a bill that would prevent the interruption or restriction of funding for U.S. troops in a combat zone.

“We’re now insisting that Democrats bring to the floor an unequivocal statement of support for our heroes in harm’s way,” said Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, who signed a discharge petition to force the bill by Rep. Sam Johnson, Texas Republican, onto the floor.

A discharge petition requires 218 signatures — the same simple majority that Democrats are seeking to pass the spending bill — to force a floor debate.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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