Hill's Moves on Iraq Seem Headed for Stalemate

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The House Appropriations Committee approves a war-funds bill that urges a September 2008 deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. But the Senate fails to pass a resolution calling for a pullout to begin by April of 2008.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Two key votes in Congress yesterday displayed differences in the strength of Iraq war opponents. Those critics prevailed in the House of Representatives, where the Appropriations Committee approved a war funding bill that stipulates most U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by September of next year.

In the Senate, though, Republicans managed to stop a binding resolution that also called for troop withdrawals. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: The House committee vote on the $124-billion war-funding bill with its troop withdrawal deadline was almost straight party line with all but one of the Democrats for it and every Republican against. The entire House is expected to vote on that bill next week, but it faces dim prospects in the Senate and a veto threat looms at the White House.

Just how hard it may be for anti-war legislation to prevail in the Senate could be seen yesterday in the fate of a resolution sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): This resolution immediately transitions a mission to training, force protection, targeted counterterrorist operations and begins a redeployment of our troops in the next 120 days.

WELNA: That resolution had a goal of moving most U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by April of next year. But it's a plan that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called, quote, "beyond silly."

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): Republicans have a message for our allies and for our troops, and it is this: We will continue to fight a timetable for withdrawal that has no connection to events or circumstances on the ground.

WELNA: Still, as Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold noted, McConnell and other Senate Republicans have voted in the past to set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops. They did so, Feingold said, some 14 years ago when U.S. forces were struggling in Somalia.

Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): By cutting off funds for a military mission, were they indifferent to the well being of our brave men and women in uniform? Of course not, Madam President. All of these members recognize that Congress had the power and the responsibility to bring our military operations in Somalia to a close by establishing a date, after which the funds would be terminated.

WELNA: Republicans, though, insisted that with newly installed General David Petraeus commanding a troop increase in Baghdad, this is not the time to start setting arbitrary deadlines for a pullout. Here's Arizona's Jon Kyl.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): There is a lot of evidence that the Petraeus plan is beginning to show significant signs of success. The administration doesn't want to crow about that because there are undoubtedly going to be bad days as well. But the signs of success are unmistakable and this is clearly the wrong time to be pulling the rug out from under our troops just as this success is occurring.

WELNA: When the Democrats' resolution came to a vote, Republicans closed ranks. They garnered 50 votes against the measure which needed 60 to pass. Arizona's John McCain missed the vote to campaign for president in Iowa. And Oregon's Gordon Smith, who's up for reelection next year, voted for the resolution.

But Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, now an independent, voted against it, as did Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who also faces a reelection bid. Democrats got 48 votes in favor. Republican leader McConnell savored that outcome.

Sen. MCCONNELL: Obviously, I'm very pleased that a majority of the Senate today expressed itself in opposition to a specific timeline for a withdrawal of troops.

WELNA: Majority Leader Reid insisted he, too, was satisfied with the vote, because he said it showed the difference between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

Sen. REID: The Republicans are rubber-stamping the president's failed policy. That's the message we have here.

WELNA: But Reid also acknowledged how hard it is to get anything controversial passed in the Senate where his party has only a one-seat advantage. And he noted that one Democrat, South Dakota's Tim Johnson, is still out recovering from brain surgery.

Sen. REID: This stage during the final weeks of Senator Johnson's incapacitation, it's 50-49. He'll be back with us soon, but even then it's 51-49. It's a very closely divided Senate.

WELNA: A Senate where many more Republicans will have to side with Democrats before there are enough votes to force a change in Iraq policy.

David Welna, NPR News.

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