Capitol Hill Debates to Focus on Iraq Conflict

House Republicans seek to pump up support for the war. But in the Senate, the arrival of a bill authorizing military spending and war policy for the next year may prompt a debate on a new direction in Iraq.

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The Senate could vote as early as today on the $94 billion emergency funding package that includes money for the war in Iraq. The House voted for the measure yesterday. Because the funds are for American troops on the battlefield, few lawmakers have resisted President Bush's request for more money. Still, a clamor is growing in Congress for an Iraq exit strategy, and both the House and the Senate plan debates this week on the war. More from NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

The House is set for an all-day debate on Iraq tomorrow. That chamber's GOP leaders hope to exploit Democrat's divisions and try to pump up support for an unpopular war. In the Senate, Armed Services Chair John Warner brought a bill to the floor that authorizes both military spending and policy for next year.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia; Chairman, Armed Services Committee): And I anticipate we'll see some of the most vigorous debate in my 28 years here on this bill.

WELNA: That's because Senators eager to change course in Iraq want to use the military spending bill as a vehicle for mandating a new direction. Leading the charge is Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry.

Yesterday, addressing a large crowd of Democratic activists in downtown Washington, Kerry called the Iraq war a mistake.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): This week, on the floor in the Senate, I will fight for an up-or-down vote on an amendment to set a date for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: Kerry's call for a pullout has Republicans accusing Democrats of wanting to cut and run. Here's Senator John Cornyn of Texas

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): It's saying no to every positive suggestion, and even looking success in the face; and snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.

WELNA: South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says setting a date for withdrawal would play right into the hands of terrorists in Iraq.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): They believe that the American public's will and the Congress's will will be broken, and that's why I'm for more troops, not less. Now is the time, in my opinion, to ramp up the American military presence to build on the momentum of Zarqawi's death.

WELNA: But, if anything, the Bush administration seems intent on ramping down the troop numbers in Iraq. Yesterday, after giving the Senate a closed-door briefing on the war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged discussions are underway on what he called the pace we're going to be able to draw down our forces.

Secretary of Defense DONALD RUMSFELD (United States Department of Defense): We will have a force level that will be appropriate, but you've got to remember that the Iraqi security forces now are 263,000. They are vastly larger than we are, and they are increasing every day, every week in both size and capability and experience.

WELNA: Delaware Democratic Senator Joseph Biden says there's no question a troop drawdown is in the works.

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): The administration is - privately, off-the-record, will tell you there's no way they can sustain 130,000 forces there without, in fact, calling up the entire National Guard, or sending people back for four or five and six tours, which would break the volunteer Army. So we're going to begin redeployment anyway.

WELNA: Biden calls Kerry's proposal to set a date for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq a mistake. He says Democrats will likely close ranks around a consensus amendment they're drafting. It calls for, quote, "a responsible redeployment of troops this year."

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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