Friday, February 23, 2007

Senate Republicans today said the Democrats’ latest idea to end the war in Iraq — by “repealing” the 2002 authorization of force in Iraq — still won’t work because they remain unwilling to do the only thing they really can: cut funding.

“Congress has one clear cut responsibility with regard to combat, and that’s funding. And that’s the one thing the Democrats don’t want to do. They want to dance around this thing,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “That’s the one thing they will absolutely not touch.”

Mr. McConnell has planned an afternoon press conference.

Republicans think Democrats lack the 60 votes needed for a proposal being drafted by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, and Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat.

The Biden/Levin plan would replace the 2002 authorization “with a new, more limited authorization” that would take all combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008, a Biden aide said.

Some U.S. troops would remain, the Biden aide said, “assisting Iraqis with training, border security and counterterrorism activities.” “I just can’t see them getting 60 votes,” said a Republican aide. “Micromanaging from D.C. is not a smart strategy … They can’t do combat missions but they can do anti-terror missions? How do you define that?”

Senate Democrats appear to be moving away from the plan in the House, outlined by Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, and supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mr. Murtha’s plan to hamstring the president’s use of war funds through the appropriations process, starting with the $93 billion supplemental bill next month, was considered to be a political compromise between the Democrats’ increasingly liberal base and its more moderate wing.

Some Democrats, such as Sen. Russell Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, favor cutting off all war funding.

But Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have said they would not cut off funds for troops in the field, and were pursuing the Murtha strategy.

Even that approach, however, bothers moderate Democrats.

Republicans had been using Democrats’ own words to label it a “first step” toward cutting off funding.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, is considering attaching the Biden/Levin plan to legislation next week on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, which has already passed the House.

Liberal blogs this morning criticized Mr. Reid for “soft negotiating,” on the heels of a failed effort last week to pass a resolution against President Bush’s plan to surge about 27,000 more U.S. troops into Iraq.

McConnell spokesman Mr. Stewart called the Biden/Levin proposal “a pretty clear repudiation of the Murtha plan.”

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Murtha have so far not responded to requests for comment.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, originally proposed repealing the 2002 authorization of force in Iraq back in January.

But last week, Mr. Biden unveiled his own plan to do the same, during a speech at the Brookings Institution.

“The 2002 authorization is no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq,” Mr. Biden said, arguing that the measure passed in 2002 was predicated on the presence of Saddam Hussein as dictator and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. “The WMD were not there. Saddam Hussein is no longer there,” said Mr. Biden, who voted for the 2002 authorization, and is now running for president.

“I am working on legislation to repeal that authorization and replace it with a much narrower mission statement for our troops in Iraq,” Mr. Biden said.

The White House and Republicans in Congress are expected to fight such an argument politically and legally.

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