Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Senate Democrats yesterday called for the fifth vote in the past year to put an expiration date on Iraq war funding — a move welcomed by Republicans eager to discuss what they say are the conflict’s recent successes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, introduced a proposal to cut funding for most troops in Iraq within 120 days of the bill’s enactment. Similar Democrat-crafted Senate measures were rejected four times in 2007.

“You cannot separate the economy from the long bloody civil war in Iraq,” Mr. Reid said. “If this war goes on another year we will have borrowed $1 trillion to pay for this war.

“I don’t know what would be a better time to bring this up than now when we’re in the throes of an economic crisis,” he said.

But Republican leaders, confident the bill will easily fail again, declined to use a procedural move to block the measure as they had done in the past. The Senate voted 70-24 to allow a full debate, with a final vote expected later this week.

This will “give us a chance to talk about the extraordinary progress that has been made in Iraq over the past six months, not only on the military side, but also with the civilian reconciliation beginning to finally take hold in the country,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Republicans are in a much better position to talk about the war now, compared with six months ago, because of the success of last summer’s “surge” of U.S. troops into the country, Mr. McConnell said.

“Let’s put it this way: When even the New York Times is writing front-page stories about how things have improved in Iraq, I think we can all agree that things have improved in Iraq,” he said.

The Bush administration has said the president would veto the measure should it pass Congress.

The issue of ending the war, a central theme for Capitol Hill Democrats in 2007, has been pushed aside by the party in recent weeks in favor of domestic economic issues.

But Mr. Reid agreed in part to revisit the troop-withdrawal issue this week as a favor to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who had been pushing his proposals for several months.

Some congressional aides have said Mr. Reid would have preferred to hold off debating the war until at least April, when Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, is scheduled to release another progress report on the conflict. But “Mr. Reid could have said no to Mr. Feingold, and he didn’t,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

Mr. Feingold said the campaign in Iraq is bleeding money and resources needed elsewhere in the military.

The Iraq war is “undermining our ability to protect ourselves at home and respond to dangers abroad, including the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the global threat posed by al Qaeda,” Mr. Feingold said.

But Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, who returned Sunday from a visit to Iraq, said a quick withdrawal would turn Iraq into a “terrorist haven” and would “put a bullet right in the hearts of our troops.”

She added it would take at least 18 months to safely and adequately withdraw troops and equipment from the country.

“Do these people supporting this [Feingold] resolution intend for us to leave our equipment and arms there?” Mrs. Hutchison said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, called the Feingold proposal “political posturing.”

Democrats leaders complained that Republicans were playing politics with the Feingold measure, accusing Mr. McConnell of intending to use the full 30 hours allowed for debate as a “stall tactic” on a pending Democratic measure dealing with the nation’s housing crisis.

Another Feingold bill calling onMr. Bush to submit a report to Congress outlining the “global strategy of the United States to combat and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates” also is expected to receive a vote later this week.

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