Congress Works Across Aisles on Troop Withdrawal

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Gen. David Petraeus is scheduled to testify before Congress on Monday about the status of the war in Iraq, but Congress is already talking about what will happen after that testimony.

Democrats have been unable to pass legislation mandating a troop withdrawal. Now some of them are talking with Republicans about other steps in an effort to reach a deal that could lead to a reduction in U.S. forces. Other Democrats are wary.

Since taking control of Congress in January, Democrats have tried repeatedly to force President Bush to pull U.S. troops from Iraq, without success. Mr. Bush vetoed one war-funding bill with a withdrawal timeline attached. Senate Democrats have failed to get the 60 votes needed to break GOP filibusters on other bills, even trying an all-night session to pressure Republicans.

Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying a new approach: He wants to find common ground.

"We're working on consensus," Reid said. "We're willing to go halfway with [Republicans] as long as everyone understands that we're not going to do something that's cosmetic in nature."

Some Republicans, like presidential candidate John McCain, say Reid is talking with Republicans only because Democrats are losing the war of public opinion.

"They've lost the momentum," McCain said. "Otherwise, they wouldn't want to sit down with Republicans and negotiate a different resolution."

A number of proposals in the Senate could possibly win the magic 60 votes. The most buzz centers on a measure co-sponsored by democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island. It calls for an unspecified but — in Levin's words — "substantial" drawdown of U.S. forces to begin this year, with a nonbinding goal of having most troops out by spring.

Reed says the Iraqi government has failed to take advantage of U.S. military efforts and that it is now time to act in the best interest of the United States.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a moderate who is facing a tough re-election fight next year, says the Levin-Reed proposal is appealing.

"I draw a distinction between a timeline and a deadline," Collins said. "I am for a timeline for changing our mission. ... What I've opposed is a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, a hard deadline that is unrelated to what is happening on the ground."

There is a similar movement toward the middle in the House, where a bipartisan group of 11 lawmakers sent a letter to their leaders asking that they "put an end to the political infighting and come up with a bipartisan approach to ending the war." One of the signers was Pennsylvania Republican Phil English.

"More and more rank-and-file members are exasperated by the level of partisanship," English said. "I think more and more members want to see forward movement, want to be in a position to say in their districts that they have reached out and they've pulled people together, that there is some common ground."

But some anti-war Democrats are dubious of that approach. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) says he is all for reaching across the aisle, as long as it's not just for show.

"I'm not interested in providing cover to people who really don't want to take the responsibility to end this war," McGovern said. "I want something that is real, something that has some teeth in it, something that will bring this war to an end."

Congress will have several opportunities to debate the war in the coming weeks as it acts on a defense authorization bill, and a separate supplemental measure to pay for the war in Iraq.

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