Despite a veto threat from President Bush, the Democrats who run the Senate have begun the floor debate on a $122 billion emergency war spending bill that would require phased troop withdrawals from Iraq four months after the bill becomes law.
Late last week, the House passed a similar spending bill. It would require most United States combat forces to leave Iraq before September 2008.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to relish the prospect of President Bush issuing a veto against funding for a war that the president chose to start. Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, described on the Senate floor how one of his staffers — a colonel in the Nevada National Guard — got an e-mail from a colleague in Iraq after the House voted to set a deadline for pulling troops out of Iraq.
"And he said what happened in the House, and what we've put in our bill is good for the troops ... because it lets the Iraqi government know that we're serious," Reid said. "And he went [on] to say the deadline's important for the Iraqi people, and the soldiers, and the Iraqi people know that."
The deadline for pulling out combat forces in the Senate spending bill is softer than the measure approved by the House. The Senate bill defines a nonbinding goal, but that goal is also five months earlier than the House deadline.
Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee that drafted the spending bill, reminded colleagues of the constitutional power Congress wields over policies in Iraq.
"Power of the purse, money," he said. "Money! Money talks."
Siding with the president, the Appropriation Committee's top Republican, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, introduced an amendment striking all references to troop withdrawals from the bill.
"Congress should not be tying the hands of our commanders, or limiting their flexibility to respond to the threats on the battlefield," Cochran said. "The inclusion of unnecessarily restrictive language will ensure a presidential veto."
And Arizona Republican Jon Kyl noted that while the troop withdrawal deadline in the Senate bill may not be binding, its call for phased troop redeployments definitely is.
"That is so destructive in the middle of a war, that I just can't believe my colleagues would actually contemplate doing it," he said.
Still, Kyl acknowledged he and his fellow Republicans are unwilling to block the war spending bill with a filibuster. What's more, he noted that even if they do manage to strip the troop withdrawal timetable from the Senate bill, the House-approved binding withdrawal deadline will likely end up in the final version of the bill that goes to the White House.
Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent, said Democrats are simply postponing enactment of a bill that's free of timetables, because the president will veto this version.
"In my opinion, he should veto it," Lieberman said.
Lieberman said everyone knows neither the House nor the Senate has enough votes to override a presidential veto.
Still, Reid insisted Democrats are simply carrying out a mandate they got at the polls from a war-weary nation. Democrats seem confident that in this fight, public opinion's on their side.