- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

Senate and House leaders yesterday dug in their heels on both sides of the aisle for what promises to be a long and bitter debate over Democrats’ plans to pull out all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by fall 2008.

“We are going to keep working and working and working until we can force this president to change course,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and vice chairman of the party’s Senate conference.

“We are in synch with the American people on all of this.”

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott vowed a relentless fight against Democrats’ efforts to “micromanage” the war.

“We will try to beat it and if we can’t, the president will veto it and we will sustain the veto,” the Mississippi Republican said.

President Bush has threatened to veto the House Democrats’ bill that attaches a pullout timetable to the nearly $100 billion in supplemental spending that Mr. Bush is seeking this year for the fighting in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Senate Democrats presented a joint resolution that would require a “phased redeployment” of forces from Iraq by March 2008.

Mr. Schumer said Democrats were ready for a veto fight with Republicans.

“We are eager to take on that fight,” he said at a press conference at the Capitol. “We will win that fight because the American people are on our side.”

Both sides of the debate struck similar chords in declaring their party was united and their opponents were divided.

“Our conference remains opposed to any effort to tie the hands of our generals in Iraq,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said as he emerged from a caucus meeting. “We believe the [president’s war] strategy has a chance of working, so why not let it work?”

But Republicans in both chambers must contemplate the political cost of sticking with an unpopular president and an increasingly unpopular war.

House Democrats, meanwhile, continue to court anti-war members, many of whom were dissatisfied with the potential for a more than year-long delay of a complete military exit from Iraq.

The frustration was evident during a run-in between a peace activist and Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

When the woman insisted Mr. Obey was not doing enough to end the war, he lashed out that “idiot liberals” were sabotaging the Democrat’s anti-war effort.

“That’s the problem,” Mr. Obey said in a video of the encounter posted yesterday on the Internet site You Tube. “The liberals are jumping around without knowing what … is in the bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, went seeking a new mandate for his pullout plan in an e-mail to party faithful asking them to sign up as “citizen co-sponsors” for the bill.

He said Republicans want to “green light an escalation” of the war.

“Last November, the American people demanded a new direction,” the e-mail said. “Democrats will not stop fighting for change in Iraq. Now Republicans must join us and put America’s future before the president’s legacy.”

Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, told reporters that public opinion wouldn’t support a move to “hamstring” generals with artificial timetables for withdraw.

“If that is the course, the American people should be rejecting this legislation,” he said.

The Senate’s Iraq debate is expected to begin late next week.

Mr. Reid used a procedural maneuver known as “Rule 14” that circumvents the committee process and forces the bill onto the Senate floor for debate.

The House bill could be marked up in committee as soon as next week and go to the House floor the following week.

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