Democrats Unable to Overcome GOP on Iraq Plans

September was supposed to be a turning point in congressional Democrats' push for a change of course in Iraq. But their Republican counterparts have stuck with the president in the days following a progress report from Gen. David Petraeus.

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For Congressional Democrats, this September was supposed to be the big turning point in their push for a change of course in Iraq, but it didn't happen. Republicans had promised to stick with President Bush on Iraq until they'd heard from General David Petraeus in mid-September. And they are still sticking with the president. That means Senate Democrats are coming up short of filibuster proof 60-vote majorities on their Iraq measures. And that impasse could continue for months.

NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: Right after General Petraeus delivered his long awaited Iraq assessment, the Senate took up a big defense bill authorizing $140 billion for the Iraq War. Since it's considered must-pass legislation, it was a right target for binding amendments that Democrats hope would wind down the war. But not one new Republican broke ranks to vote with them.

On Thursday, an exasperated Majority Leader Harry Reid declared there will be no more efforts to compromise.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): I've done everything I can to reach out to the Republicans. I've been to their offices, I've talked to them on the phone, I've talked to them on the floor, and there isn't much more that I can do with individual Republicans who haven't changed.

WELNA: Reid said his only hope is that Republicans seeking reelection next year who still support President Bush on the war will realize they're on the wrong side of public opinion.

But Virginia Republican John Warner says, because General Petraeus has promised a new assessment on Iraq in March, fellow Republicans are unlikely to break ranks with the president before then.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): We now have moving forward a Petraeus-Crocker type of strategy embraced by the president. With March being a sort of a summit not unlike what we experienced in September.

WELNA: For Dick Durbin, the Senate's number two Democrat, this all fits a pattern of running out the clock.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I can see what's happening. This administration is backing down toward the exit. And they're buying clumps of months on their way out, just to buy enough time to get out the door.

WELNA: Indeed, a group of moderate Republicans who so far backed President Bush on the war floated a proposal on Friday, setting a goal of completing a change of mission in Iraq 15 months from now, after the presidential election. Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin is a Democrat who has also been pushing for such a transition, but Levin says 15 months is too long to wait.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan; Chairman, Armed Services Committee): To try to put this until after the election rather than a reasonable period for completion, I believe would be unnecessarily introduce a political element to what is a bipartisan effort.

WELNA: The next big target for Senate efforts to force a change in Iraq policy could be the $190 billion supplemental funding request for the war. But Majority Leader Reid refused to tip his hand when asked how Democrats plan to handle that request.

Sen. REID: We're not going to get into what we're going to do on the supplemental, or not going to do on the supplemental. Everything's on the table. We're not going to do and ask the warriors out on our own. We're going to work with House and come up with a strategy.

WELNA: That may be so, but Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared Friday that it's clear the Senate can muster the 60 votes needed to pass meaningful measures on Iraq.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): We in the House cannot confine our aspirations for changing the direction in Iraq to what might be possible today in the United States Senate.

WELNA: So Pelosi plans a series of House votes starting this coming week on Iraq. Rather than kowtow to the Senate, she said, the House will appeal to the American people.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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