Defense Bill Put on Hold The defense bill has been shelved for the time being, as Democrats were unable to get the requisite sixty votes needed to cut off debate on Iraq.
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Defense Bill Put on Hold

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Defense Bill Put on Hold

Defense Bill Put on Hold

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The big event this week on Capitol Hill was an all-nighter - with pizza. Congress debated the war in Iraq, then they tried to vote on a troop withdrawal beginning this fall, but they didn't have 60 votes to cut off the talks so Democrats could not proceed to vote on that withdrawal. At that point, Senate Democratic leaders put the defense bill on a shelf and took up other business. The next morning, President Bush had this to say:

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It is time to rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops in the field and give them everything they need to succeed.

HANSEN: Despite that scolding from the White House, the Senate is not expected to return to the Iraq issue now until September. In the House where Democrats can prevail with a simple majority, there may be votes related to Iraq before the summer's recess begins next month.

Joining us to talk about the big issue before the nation's lawmakers are Andrea Seabrook and David Welna, NPR's congressional correspondents in the House and Senate respectively. We'll start with Andrea. What plans does the House have for Iraq-related votes this summer?

ANDREA SEABROOK: Well, House Democratic leaders are still working over several different plans. They're definitely are going to try and take up - week after this one coming up - they're going to try and take up the Defense Department appropriations bill. This is the money that funds the Defense Department for fiscal year 2008. Sorry for all the Congress-speak.

But this week, coming up, they're going to try and bring up some stand-alone bills. Meaning not attaching it to other things. Things like a bill that would force the military to allow soldiers to stay at home and rest as long as they were deployed.

Another bill that could possibly come up is a bill that would forbid or bar the Defense Department from putting permanent bases in Iraq. There's another one - they are considering bringing up a bill that would deauthorize the 2002 vote for the war.

So they're juggling these ideas. They're trying to figure out which one to bring up this week and which one to bring up week after next as part of the defense appropriations bill.

HANSEN: David, let's turn to you in the Senate, which apparently tied itself in pretty big knots this week on Iraq. In the hours before adjournment for the weekend, is it true there was a pillow fight?

DAVID WELNA: Well, you know, I think what happened late Thursday night on the Senate floor could legitimately be called a meltdown. You know, the kind of thing that happens when people have been getting on each other's nerves for just a little bit too long.

What happened was the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, took advantage of an arcane Senate rule to introduce an amendment that said detainees in Guantanamo should not be transferred to facilities in American communities. And then Democrats punched back with an amendment saying Lewis "Scooter" Libby should not be pardoned, which then prompted a Republican amendment deploring President Clinton's pardons. And all of these was on a bill to fund higher education. And they finally decided to call off the catfight and finished the bill and go home for the weekend.

But I think this really was a, sort of, settling of scores for a lot of other things that went on in the week. Not the least of which was the Democrats keeping everyone up all night on Tuesday to debate winding down the war in Iraq.

HANSEN: Andrea, let me ask you about what the Republicans have called all of these efforts by the Democrats - grandstanding for the sake of anti-war activists. Is there a grain of truth? I mean, they do seem eager to respond to their constituents.

SEABROOK: Sure. And that's always true in Congress. I mean, you can call it grandstanding or you can say that they want to keep debate focused on the war in Iraq and push these Republicans who - the speaker's office told me today, you know, there are all these Republicans who are coming out and saying that the war is bad, but when it comes down to the votes, they won't vote that way.

And the Democrats' intention - the leader's intention - is to put enough pressure on these people that votes actually start to change because the Democrats would like to actually change the policy.

HANSEN: David, the Republicans in the Senate seemed to be very attached to the September report that will be coming from the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, regarding the progress there. Is that a pivotal point, a deadline, a line in the sand?

WELNA: I think it most definitely is. You know, many GOP senators I've talked to say they'll stick with the president on Iraq until September, but that's as much as they're promising. In fact, Minority Leader McConnell underscored that again on Friday when a reporter asked him about indications that the White House might be shifting the goal post from September to November. And he said this, the key time for the vast majority of my members is September and it certainly is for me.

Now, I think Majority Leader Reid and his Democrats are counting on getting a lot more Republicans to join them in supporting measures against the war because they think there's no way enough progress can be reported by then to keep especially vulnerable Republicans on board with the White House.

HANSEN: Andrea Seabrook is NPR's congressional correspondent in the House. And David Welna is NPR's congressional correspondent in the Senate. Thank you both.

SEABROOK: Have a great day.

WELNA: You're welcome.

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