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Senate Rejects Bill to Cut War Funds in Early 2008

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Senate Rejects Bill to Cut War Funds in Early 2008


Senate Rejects Bill to Cut War Funds in Early 2008

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To the war in Iraq now and the attempts by some lawmakers to end it. The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse. So in theory, it could end the war at any time. But a procedural vote in the Senate today made it clear that, at least politically, that time has not yet arrived.

Senators soundly rejected a measure that would have cutoff funding next April. But a majority did embrace tougher White House reporting requirements for a war-funding bill the Senate has yet to complete.

NPR's David Welna has that story.

DAVID WELNA: The Iraq war-funding amendment the Senate voted on today were, at least, formally part of a big water resources bill. These measures were clearly more suited to the Senate's next version of a war-funding bill. But they could have tied up that bill in endless debates. And the chamber's leaders wanted to move quickly to final negotiations with the House.

So they agreed to bring up a place holding funding bill tomorrow that cannot be amended. Today's tallies were really test votes. One of the votes was on a measure sponsored by Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold that would cutoff funding for the Iraq war by March 31, 2008.

Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): It is time to end a war that is draining our resources, straining our military, and undermining our national security. And the way to do that is by using our power of the purse to safely bring our brave troops out of Iraq.

WELNA: Feingold's measure put the crew of Senate Democrats running for president on the spot since all of them had been calling for an end to the war. Only 28 Democrats and one independent voted for the measure, but among them was every Democratic presidential contender - Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Christopher Dodd, and Joseph Biden, who did so with some reluctance.

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): I'm not crazy about the language in Feingold amendment, but I am crazy about the fact that we got to keep the pressure on.

WELNA: Although 67 senators voted against using the power of the purse to end the war, hardly anyone argued against the measure. Maine Republican Susan Collins is one of the few who did.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): I don't think that that's responsible. I think that's a disservice to the brave men and women who are fighting so hard in Iraq.

WELNA: Collins joined with Virginia Republican John Warner in co-sponsoring a competing amendment. It sets 18 benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. And it also requires the White House to report more frequently on how those benchmarks are being met. But majority leader Harry Reid, chided Warner for including a provision that allows the president to waive any consequences for not meeting the benchmarks.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): His amendment is really very tepid, very weak. A cup of tea that's been sitting on the counter for a few weeks, Mr. President. You wouldn't want to drink that tea. You wouldn't want to vote for this amendment.

WELNA: Warner defended his amendment, pointing out that it would have former NATO commander and retired general James Jones do his own assessment of Iraq's security forces.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): That is not weak tea. That's a commitment by a very brave, credible American to try and help this institution - the Congress - have a better understanding about the viability and the professional capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces.

WELNA: Warner's measure fell eight votes short of the 60 it needed to pass. But it did pick up the support of most Republicans including minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): The Iraqi government, it strikes me, needs to understand that they're running out of time to get their part of the job done. And those kinds of measures, I think, were set in the Warner vote and could well be a part of a final conclusion only of supplemental appropriation.

WELNA: Majority Leader Reid, for his part, vowed he won't back down in the fight over the war-funding bill.

Sen. REID: We Democrats are not, I repeat, not going to allow a blank check to the president. That's not going to happen.

WELNA: Reid's goal is to get a war-funding bill to the president's desk by next Friday. But Minority Whip Trent Lott warned the bill's far from completion.

Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi; Senate Minority Leader): It still has, you know, a way to go. It won't be easy to get agreement in conference that the president can sign.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.


And now, a footnote to a story that's been widely reported over the past few months: Britain's Prince Harry's deployment to Iraq. We learned today, he won't be going. Britain's top general, Sir Richard Dannatt said specific threats have been made against the prince that exposed him - and these are Dannatt's words - to a degree of danger I consider unacceptable.

Prince Harry is 22. He's a second lieutenant, a tank commander. And he's trained to lead a 12-man team. There had been speculation that if he were sent to Iraq, he'd have to travel with bodyguards.

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