- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Senate Democrats yesterday thwarted a Republican effort to strip a troop withdrawal timetable from the Iraq war funding bill — speeding Congress toward a veto showdown with President Bush.

“We are not going to back down from the essential language in this bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said of the mandate that a troop pullout start almost immediately with the goal of a complete exit by next March.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 50-48 against removing the timetable from the $121 billion bill and sets the stage for a final vote on the bill as early as today. The House already has approved a binding withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Republicans will not filibuster the bill, but, if it passes, they have the votes to sustain the president’s veto.

“To delay the bill doesn’t serve the intent of getting the money to the troops,” said the Kentucky Republican.

The White House yesterday said Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans have agreed to get the legislation to his desk as quickly as possible so he can veto it.

“The legislation would substitute congressional mandates for the considered judgment of our military commanders,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “Regardless of the success that our troops are achieving in the field, this bill would require their withdrawal.”

The administration also has criticized the billions of dollars of pork-barrel spending attached to the bill to woo support from skeptical lawmakers. The so-called pork includes $100 million for security at the 2008 presidential nominating conventions, $3 million in sugar-cane subsidies and $2 million for the University of Vermont.

Mr. Reid yesterday said Democrats are comfortable with the bill and that all the spending is for emergencies.

On both sides of the Capitol, Democrats say they are responding to voters’ demand for an exit from the four-year-old war. Republicans argue that a pullout timetable is a declaration of defeat and a setback in the global war on terrorism.

“This is a big game of chicken,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “The problem is the people who stand to lose are the troops, who ought to be the ones we are behind and supporting.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, yesterday offered to include the president in negotiations to craft an acceptable compromise bill when combining the two chambers’ versions.

“Neither the president nor ourselves want to micromanage the war,” Mr. Hoyer told reporters. “We don’t believe that setting deadlines — particularly deadlines as far away as August 31st of 2008 — is micromanaging.”

He said Democratic leaders should reach out to the president and ask him, “Where are the areas of compromise? We all want to fund the troops.”

The White House has said Democrats risk cutting off war funds, which begin to run out April 15, by forcing him to veto a pullout deadline.

Mr. Reid said he agreed with Mr. Hoyer’s call to include the president in negotiating a final version of the bill.

“Of course we should reach out to the president, and I am happy to do that,” Mr. Reid said, adding that so far it has been Mr. Bush who has presented “nonnegotiable” demands.

He also said the administration’s April 15 deadline for war funding was a contrivance of the “White House spin machine.”

Yesterday’s 50-48 vote was a mirror image of a Senate vote two weeks ago that defeated a nonbinding resolution calling for the same withdrawal timetable.

This time, Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon joined 48 Democrats to keep the pullout timetable in the bill.

“The Iraqis must govern their country, and American forces must be positioned to fight jihadists,” Mr. Smith said after the vote.

Sens. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, sided with Republicans in supporting the amendment by Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican.

The Senate will vote today on a Democratic amendment to add a 70-cent increase to the minimum wage to the legislation.

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