- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Senate, for the second time in two months, yesterday took up the defense authorization bill that will include another Democratic bid to pull U.S. troops from Iraq and other efforts to alter the president’s war policy.

The bill first will serve as a vehicle for legislation to expand rights of foreign-born terror suspects, to close the detention center at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to limit interrogation techniques in the war on terror.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, called the bill “our next best chance to continue our efforts to force President Bush to change course in Iraq.”

He said Mr. Bush, who last week announced plans to withdraw about 30,000 troops within the next year as the mission is redirected to counterterrorism operations and supporting Iraqi forces, gave “neither a convincing rationale to continue the war, nor a plan to end it.”

More than 300 amendments have been proposed for the bill, which would authorize $648.8 billion in Defense Department spending, including $129.8 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Debate on the Iraq war amendments is not expected until at least Thursday.

A key Iraq war amendment would start a large-scale pullout from Iraq in 120 days and limit the role of the remaining U.S. force to training Iraqi troops, protecting U.S. bases, guarding the border and conducting counterterrorism missions.

The amendment by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island was still being finalized yesterday.

They had not decided whether to set a firm deadline to complete the pullout or a goal, which could attract more Republican support, said Tara Andringa, spokeswoman for Mr. Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, will introduce a similar bill that would set a deadline to complete the withdrawal and limit funding to noncombat operations.

Employing Congress’ power of the purse to end the war recently gained support from Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. The tactic, however, risks criticism for undermining troops in combat and likely will not win Republican support.

Republicans say the war-related items, particularly the Iraq withdrawal timeline measures, will never survive the chamber and are far from veto-proof.

In July, Mr. Reid pulled the defense bill from the floor when he was unable to secure the 60 votes needed to have an up-or-down vote on an amendment calling for troops to be given as many months at home as they serve in a war zone.

It failed after an all-night debate didn’t sway Republicans, who say it usurps power given to the president as commander in chief in the Constitution.

The amendment is back and its sponsor, Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, is aggressively courting Republican support. He says the “equal-time” rule would help restore an overworked and nearly exhausted U.S. military.

Critics say the measure would hamstring military commanders and force a more rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

“That’s not our intention,” said Webb spokeswoman Kimberly Hunter. “We need to place a safety net under our troops.”

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