Senate Democrats are using debate on the annual defense policy bill to push for policy changes in Iraq. Most notably, Democrats are calling for a timeline for bringing the troops home.
They're also testing Republican disenchantment with Iraq policy by offering a series of amendments to the $650 billion defense authorization bill that's being debated this week. A growing number of senior Republicans have distanced themselves from the White House and lessened their support for the war in Iraq. But it's not clear how far they are willing to go to oppose President Bush on this issue.
Two of those Republicans, Sens. John Warner and Richard Lugar, have offered their own amendment. The Warner-Lugar proposal would require President Bush to present a plan by mid-October that redefines the military mission in Iraq. It calls for limiting the use of U.S. forces to training the Iraqi military, guarding the border, fighting terrorists and protecting U.S. interests. And it recommends that the new plan be ready for implementation by the end of the year. The White House has already rejected the proposal.
On Sunday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Congress needs to wait for military commanders in Iraq to complete their progress report in September, before calling for changes in U.S. strategy.
Many of the proposals are still works in progress. Here are five other key amendments to watch:
Leave Time: An amendment sponsored by Jim Webb (D-VA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) would mandate that active-duty soldiers spend as much time on leave at home as they spent on their previous tour in Iraq. The president could waive the provision during a national security emergency. Republicans blocked this amendment July 11 when a move to limit debate was defeated, 56-41. Sixty votes were required.
Troop Withdrawal by April 30: Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) have offered an amendment that would begin a troop pullout within 120 days of enactment, with a deadline for withdrawing most troops by April 30, 2008. A residual force of undefined size would remain for counterterrorism efforts, U.S. force protection and the training of Iraqi security forces. This is similar to a proposal passed last spring as part of a spending measure that President Bush vetoed. It is not expected to pass because of Republican opposition to setting a firm withdrawal date.
Troop Withdrawal by March 31: An amendment from Russell Feingold (D-WI), backed by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, would begin withdrawals within 120 days. It sets March 31, 2008, as a firm date for troop withdrawal — and for cutting off most funding. Troops would be left in Iraq only for specific missions, such as combating terrorism, protecting the border and training Iraqi security forces. The amendment is not expected to pass.
Revoking War Authorization: An amendment by Robert Byrd (D-WV) and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D-NY) would sunset the war authorization that Congress approved in 2002 on its fifth anniversary (Oct. 11, 2007). It would also force President Bush to seek new authorization, while spelling out U.S. strategy and goals in Iraq. This amendment has not attracted Republican support and is expected to be rejected.
Iraq Study Group: An amendment by Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) would implement more than six dozen recommendations in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report. The report suggests March 2008 as a "goal" for withdrawing troops from Iraq. It also calls for diplomatic efforts to end the war. This amendment has bipartisan support from moderates on both sides and is expected to pass — if it ever comes up.