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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) answers questions from reporters at the U.S. Capitol on March 27, 2007. Reid spoke to reporters about the vote on funding for the Iraq war.
Following the lead of the House, the Senate is on the verge of passing a bill that includes a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Tuesday the Senate voted 50 to 48 to define the goal of withdrawing troops within a year. The final vote on the bill is expected Wednesday.
President Bush is threatening to veto any bill reaching his desk that includes a timetable for withdrawal.
Earlier this month, Senate Democrats couldn't muster the votes for a timetable. But Tuesday they gained support from two Republicans, including Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
"There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq," he said. "There will not be a military solution to Iraq. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. It does not belong to the United States. Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost."
Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon also voted for the non-binding timetable, which suggests withdrawal should begin four months after the bill becomes law.
Connecticut Independent Joseph Lieberman, a staunch supporter of the war, opposed the timetable.
"This congressionally ordered withdrawal of our troops from Iraq would essentially be giving up on our cause in Iraq just when our prospects are picking up there," he said. "It would essentially snatch defeat from the jaws of progress in Iraq today."
Opponents said the measure amounted to micro-managing the war, and would give a timetable to insurgents, whom they said would sit back and wait for U.S. forces to leave, then resume their attacks. Republican John Warner of Virginia said even a non-binding timetable would send a sound all over the world.
"It would be the bugle of retreat, it would be echoed and repeated from every minaret in Iraq: the coalition forces have decided to take the first step backwards," he said.
The timetable is attached to a bill providing some $122 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of the fiscal year, along with a host of domestic programs, ranging from agriculture relief to money for the parties political conventions next year. Opponents have denounced the additional money as pork.
But it was the Iraq provisions that drew most of the debate yesterday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the goal for withdrawal sends a message to the White House: "This war is not worth spilling another drop of American blood. As it stands, this emergency vote in the Senate tonight will send a signal to the president: it's time for a new direction."
The White House, which dispatched Vice President Cheney to the Capitol in case he needed to break a tie, immediately denounced the Senate vote. In a statement, it said Bush "is disappointed that the Senate continues down a path with a bill that he will veto and has no chance of becoming law."
While Democrats know they don't have the votes to override a veto, they do have the leverage of popular sentiment against the war and in favor of a timetable. They say they're willing to negotiate with the President, though they don't hold out much hope he'll go along.