GOP Stalls Debate On Troop Increase

By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A long-awaited Senate showdown on the war in Iraq was shut down before it even started yesterday, when nearly all Republicans voted to stop the Senate from considering a resolution opposing President Bush's plan to send 21,500 additional combat troops into battle.

A day of posturing, finger-pointing and backroom wrangling came to nothing when Democratic and Republican leaders could not reach agreement on which nonbinding resolutions would be debated and allowed to come to a vote. The Senate's 49 to 47 vote last night to proceed to debate on Bush's new war policy fell 11 votes short of the 60 needed to break the logjam. Just two Republicans, Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Susan Collins (Maine), voted with the Democrats to proceed with the debate. Both are considered among the most vulnerable senators standing for reelection in 2008.

Republicans insisted that the impasse will soon be broken. But the leaders of the two parties appeared to be far from a compromise last night, and the White House has worked hard to block action on a resolution disapproving of the president's decision to boost troop levels.

"What you just saw was Republicans giving the president the green light to escalate in Iraq," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said after the vote. Reid contended that Republicans "are trying to avoid a debate on this matter."

Republicans said they have no desire to avoid a debate, asserting that they simply want a fair hearing on their proposals.

"We are ready and anxious to have this debate this week," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

Reid and McConnell were expected to resume negotiations today after conferring with lawmakers. With the tremendous national interest and media buildup to this week's confrontation, it would be extraordinary if the two sides did not reach an agreement on ground rules. But regardless of the outcome of the talks, Congress is certain to be consumed with Iraq in the months ahead.

A huge budget bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year comes before the Senate tomorrow, and Reid promised war amendments to that debate. Bush has requested $245 billion in funding for the war, to cover this year and next year, and that legislation is certain to become a magnet for Iraq concerns.

Next week, the Democratic-led House is expected to move forward with its version of the nonbinding resolutions stuck in the Senate.

"You can run, but you can't hide," Reid said. "We are going to debate Iraq."

At issue are four separate measures. The main resolution, worked out by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), would put the Senate on record as opposing the additional troop deployment while calling for a diplomatic initiative to settle the conflict. It would oppose a cutoff of funds for troops in the field of battle.

The Republican leadership's alternative, drafted by John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), would establish tough new benchmarks for the Iraqi government to achieve but would not oppose the planned deployment.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company