Senate Democrats Split on Measure Opposing Bush
Friday, February 2, 2007
Senate Democratic leaders who decided to back a Republican resolution against President Bush's Iraq war plan in hopes of winning broad bipartisan support ran into stiff resistance yesterday from an unexpected quarter -- fellow Democrats.
The Democratic dust-up came on a day when opponents of the president's policies received some unexpected ammunition. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that Bush's plan to deploy roughly 20,000 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq is likely to require at least 15,000 support personnel, and possibly as many as 28,000.
That could mean the plan would involve up to 48,000 troops and contractors, at a cost of between $9 billion and $13 billion for the first four months and up to $27 billion for the first year.
The compromise resolution states that the Senate disagrees with the president's plan and urges Bush to instead consider all other options for achieving his strategic goals.
Democratic defections would probably not prevent the legislation from passing the Senate, provided that the measure gets to a final vote over a threatened filibuster by Republicans. But defections would deprive Democratic leaders of a strong united vote against Bush's decision to boost troop levels in Iraq by 21,500.
Two Democratic senators, Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and Russell Feingold (Wis.), came out forcefully against the compromise, saying the newly worded resolution goes too far toward GOP positions. Dodd called it "essentially an endorsement of the status quo" in Iraq, while Feingold denounced it as "a deal with the devil."
"This is the United States Senate. This is not some city council somewhere," Dodd said. "It seems to me sending something down that engages the president, that forces the administration to pay attention is something we ought to be considering."
Several other Democrats said they remain undecided; many of them are pushing binding legislation to cap troop levels, force a new vote to authorize the war or begin bringing troops home.
For days, two groups of senators had backed competing resolutions of opposition: a sharply worded version by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), and a more conciliatory resolution by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.). The stalemate was broken Wednesday night when Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) backed a revised version of Warner's resolution.
Democratic leaders noted that the compromise puts them in a far stronger position to defeat a Republican-led filibuster against the resolution when it is brought to a vote next week. The first showdown will come Monday afternoon, when the Senate will vote on whether to proceed to the debate. At least seven Republicans, and possibly more than 10, could back the compromise, worked out by Warner and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). If, as expected, Democratic opponents of the resolution side with their leaders to break a filibuster, the measure would have close to the necessary 60 votes, but it is not there yet.
If the Senate does break the filibuster, only to see half a dozen Democrats oppose the resolution, Democratic leaders could still pass the measure but would be deprived of the broad, bipartisan vote they want to send a clear signal to the White House.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who led the war effort in Iraq before being nominated as Army chief of staff, confirmed that the 21,500 troops in Bush's plan is not the total, as indicated in yesterday's CBO report. In written answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said that "certain additional combat support and combat service support capabilities" would be required. They include "logistical enablers, intelligence assets, military police, and a command/control node," although the numbers would be "minimal."
Democrats said those answers directly contradict statements made by the current Army chief of staff just a week ago.
"The CBO report only confirms what we already know: The president has continually tried to hide the true costs of this war," said Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
Army and White House officials said they are reviewing the CBO report and have not yet determined the number of support personnel needed.
During a confirmation hearing yesterday, Warner pressed Casey on why he had asked for fewer than half the additional troops Bush now wants -- two combat brigades instead of five.
"I did not want to bring one more American soldier into Iraq than was necessary to accomplish the mission," Casey responded.
To opponents of the Senate resolution, such developments only bolstered their resolve to demand stronger action.
"A political victory is not more important than ending this war," Feingold said.
At issue are three clauses in a resolution that is now 11 pages long.
Of particular concern to some Democrats is a clause stating, "The Congress should not take any action that will endanger United States military forces in the field, including the elimination or reduction of funds for troops in the field." That provision was added to win GOP support. Levin said it would not prevent binding legislative action to stop further deployments.
But some Democrats took offense at equating a cutoff of funds with the endangerment of troops and said it would bind their hands in the coming months.
They also objected to a call for continued "vigorous operations in Anbar province," where U.S. forces have been battling al-Qaeda-linked Sunni extremists.
Another phrase saying that the resolution "should not be interpreted as precipitating any immediate reduction in" present troop levels was seen by some as an endorsement of the status quo.