Senator Changes Course, Balks at Funding Iraq War
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. This afternoon the Senate began debating the last war funding bill of the Bush administration. It will provide another $100 billion this fiscal year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and billions more to be used by the next administration. But something is very different this time around. Some senators who voted repeatedly for earlier war funding bills are balking at doing it again. Some of them, one of them is the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, as NPR's David Welna now reports.
DAVID WELNA: A year ago this week the Senate faced another key war funding decision. President Bush had just vetoed a funding bill due to its timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq. When Congress removed that timeline from the bill, the unfettered funding was opposed by only 14 senators. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin was not one of them, even though he was against the Iraq war from the start. The reason he voted to fund the war, Durbin told his colleagues at the time, was simple.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I will not take my feelings out on the troops that are in the field. I will continue to provide the resources they need to be trained and equipped and rested and ready to go into battle and to come home safely. The debate will continue over this policy, but our soldiers should never be bargaining chips in this political debate. And that's why I will vote this evening for this bill.
WELNA: But last month at a hearing on the current war funding bill, Durbin clearly had changed his mind. He said he'd once concluded that voting to fund the war was the right thing to do for the troops.
Sen. DURBIN: And now I've reached the definite conclusion. Sending a blank check to this president for this war is going to prolong the killing, prolong the deaths, the injuries that will return, and this president wants to hand of the ball on January 20, 2009 and walk away.
WELNA: The following day, I asked Durbin what it was that changed his mind about voting to fund the war.
Sen. DURBIN: Certainly when you are celebrating the first anniversary of a temporary surge with no end of sight, it's an indication to me that there was never good faith on the part of the administration to wind this war down. The president just doesn't want to face what could be a chaotic ending, but we may have to face under any circumstances.
WELNA: And what about people who might say that Senator Durbin is not funding our troops who are in harm's way?
Sen. DURBIN: Our troops will have the resources they need. I'm confident of that.
WELNA: Because the war funding is considered must-pass legislation, it's become a kind of train for loading on all kinds of other funding requests, everything from a new G.I. bill to extending unemployment benefits. Durbin himself held a news conference late last month asking that $200 million be added to the bill for world hunger relief. Did that mean he'd vote for the war funding after all, if that money was added to it?
Sen. DURBIN: Many times you find yourself faced with the dilemma of trying to achieve that goal at the expense of something else that's very important to you. I hope it doesn't come down to that. That's the best I could say at this moment.
WELNA: Today, Durbin reaffirmed his intention not to vote for a war funding bill with no timeline for troop withdrawals.
Sen. DURBIN: Unless there are conditions that start bringing the troops home, I will not give this president another blank check.
WELNA: Durbin's main job in the Senate is to count how his fellow Democrats will vote. He says he's certain there are others who will also, for the first time, refuse to vote for war funding with no strings attached. Majority Leader Harry Reid noted that shift this morning on the Senate floor.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): In the past, war funding has been, after a lot of arm twisting and cajoling, there has been enough votes to get that. I don't know if the votes are here this time.
WELNA: Last week the votes were not there in the House. Members at that time said they hope the Senate would approve the war funding.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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