Senate Vote Focuses on Iraq War Funding
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The Senate took a test vote today on whether to bring up a bill that would cutoff money for the war in Iraq within four months. It was expected to fail but most Republicans decided to vote for it and proceed to debate which then took place on the Senate floor. The idea was to try to force Democrats into an uncomfortable corner.
Earlier today, I spoke with NPR's David Welna on Capitol Hill, and I asked him why the Democrats brought the vote up today even though these Iraq War measures have failed for months.
DAVID WELNA: The Democrat's official explanation for voting for a fifth time on Senator Russ Feingold's bill to end the Iraq War is that the economic cost of that war is now being acutely felt at home. Majority Leader Harry Reid says, you can't separate the nation's economic woes from what he calls a long, bloody civil war in Iraq, which he says is close to costing nearly a trillion dollars in deficit spending as well as close to 4,000 American lives.
Now, what Reid is not saying is that he's actually making good on a promise he made to Feingold back in December when Feingold was threatening to hold up a defense bill in order to get a vote on the funding cutoff. Reid said then that Feingold would get his vote and he made good on that today. And it's something that anti-war Democrats were hoping for even though this bill has never gotten more than 29 votes in the Senate. But Republicans then turned the tables on the Democrats by voting to take up the bill rather than blocking it as they have in the past.
BLOCK: And that's the Republican strategy here?
WELNA: Well, you know, I think their official line is that this is a great opportunity for them to remind the nation how well - at least by their (unintelligible) - the troop surge in Iraq has worked out. But it's also clear that in this election year, the chance to put a lot of Democrats on the spot about cutting off funds for troops in Iraq and Democrats are indeed divided on this.
And the other thing, the Republican's vote to take up (unintelligible) is it shoves back the Senate's consideration of a bill to prevent housing foreclosures that Republicans here clearly aren't that crazy about.
BLOCK: And what's up next with this bill?
WELNA: Well, if Republicans don't relent, the Senate will have to spend the next 30 hours. It's in session debating a bill that cuts off most war funding even though everyone knows there is no way that bill could actually pass.
BLOCK: And the political risks here, David?
WELNA: Well, I think both sides are running certain risks. Democrats would like to start rallying behind a presidential nominee but even though both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are co-sponsors of Feingold's bill cutting off war funding, the Senate Democratic caucus is split, as I said, in its support for that bill.
And by the same token, Republicans want to rally behind their likely nominee and fellow senator, John McCain, who has been an ardent supporter of the troop surge. But in doing so, they are also embracing a war that polls show is highly unpopular; about three out of five surveyed have called it a mistake.
And there will be much more on all of this next month on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion. And then after that when General David Petraeus comes here in April to give an update on the troop surge and after that the Congress will be asked once again to approve tens of billions of dollars more for the war.
BLOCK: Okay, David, thanks a lot.
WELNA: You're welcome, Melissa.
BLOCK: That's NPR's David Welna at the Capitol.
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