Senate Preps for Fuller Debate of Iraq Troop Buildup

The Senate is expected to begin debate next week on a compromise resolution opposing President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) have agreed to merge competing measures into the new nonbinding legislation.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Two senators who are leading separate efforts to put Congress on record against President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq have joined forces. Senate Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John Warner last night agreed to merge their competing measures into a new nonbinding resolution. The deal is a major breakthrough for critics of the president.

Joining us now is NPR's David Welna, who has been covering the Iraq resolutions. And David, what's so significant about these two anti-troop surge resolutions being merged into one other than that obviously it would seem to make for a stronger resolution?

DAVID WELNA: Well, Renee, I don't think either one of those resolutions had quite enough votes to get to 60, and that's the magic number you need in the Senate if you're going to beat the filibuster that minority leader Mitch McConnell has threatened for these resolutions. Now, Democratic Senator Levin had cosponsored one of those resolutions which the Foreign Relations Committee passed last week, but most Republicans seemed unwilling to back that measure, and at most only 49 Democrats were behind it.

These co-sponsors wanted to meld theirs with another resolution sponsored by Republican Senator Warner, but Warner had refused to do so until last night. And I think he changed his mind because he realized that he didn't have quite enough votes to beat a filibuster either.

MONTAGNE: Did one of the two resolutions actually prevail in this situation?

WELNA: Well, this was a deal worked out between Levin, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, and Warner, who had previously chaired that committee, and I don't think either of these long-time allies stiff-armed the other. Levin was willing to drop language from his resolution saying it's not in the national interest to have a troop surge in Iraq, and Warner dropped language from his allowing for an actual troop increase if needed.

And then to attract more disaffected Republicans, they added an assurance that funds for troops on the ground in the Iraq would in no way be affected by this resolution.

MONTAGNE: Now, allies of President Bush in the Senate had been hoping to offer an alternative resolution that would keep Republicans from voting against the president. Is that still on track?

WELNA: Well, I think we'll see a resolution backed by Republican John McCain and independent Joe Lieberman that sets benchmarks for the Iraqis to meet. They're hoping Republicans who are worried about opposition to the war back home can vote for this as a way of asserting oversight of the troop surge. But of course all these resolutions are nonbinding and it's not clear whether this option will be compelling enough to prevent more Republicans from defecting and backing the anti-surge Resolution.

MONTAGNE: And David, just very quickly, when does the debate get underway?

WELNA: Well, the debate is supposed to get started next Monday and it may start out with a key test vote to see if this new combined resolution has actually attracted at least 60 supporters. And it will then be subject to amendments. And some Republicans are talking about proposing an amendment that would call for an immediate withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq, and they figure that would put a lot of Democrats in a tough position, since many of them are nervous about being seen as undermining the troops. But I think more than anything, we're going to have the most far-reaching and probably gut-wrenching debate on this war we've heard yet.

MONTAGNE: Thank you, David.

WELNA: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Welna.

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