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Iraq Vote In Senate Blocked By GOP

But Democrats believe they are playing a strong hand in the Iraq debate. Polls show that most voters oppose a troop increase, and the GOP's heavy losses in the November elections were widely interpreted as a call for more aggressive vetting of Bush's Iraq strategy.

As soon as Bush announced the military buildup early last month, Democratic leaders considered ways to officially register an objection. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed to begin work on a nonbinding resolution, believing it was the easiest vote politically, including for Republicans who are disaffected by Bush's leadership on Iraq.

But in the Senate, Republicans decided to offer their own nonbinding measure, asserting that Congress would not cut off troop funding. Some Democrats opposed to the Iraq war want to target Pentagon spending as a way to force a withdrawal of troops.

Reid refused to allow a vote on the GOP measure, explaining that he wanted to keep the debate focused on the troop increase. Republicans now have twice voted this month to block a nonbinding resolution, on grounds that Reid was not playing fair. In spirited floor speeches in recent days, Democrats taunted their GOP colleagues for throwing up procedural hurdles to protect Bush from a potentially embarrassing repudiation.

"They are trying to divert attention from the issue at hand," Reid said of Republicans yesterday. "They'd like to turn the Senate into a procedural quagmire. They want to hide behind weak and misleading arguments about the Senate's rules or a senator's right to offer amendments. These arguments are diversions."

But Republicans accused Democrats of hiding behind the Senate rulebook to avoid the funding question.

"The reason we're here on a Saturday playing stupid political games while people are off in Iraq trying to win this war is because our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are afraid to take a vote on cutting off funding," blasted Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), in a speech before the vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not relent. "I think the majority of Senate Republicans have made it clear again today, and are highly likely to do that again in the future, that when we turn to this issue, we're going to insist on voting on funding the troops," the Kentucky Republican said.

The White House issued a statement saying "this week's voting gave the world a glimpse of democracy's vigor," but it also welcomed the funding showdown.

"The next votes should provide unmistakable assurance of this nation's resolve in achieving success, supporting the cause of democracy, and stopping terrorist forces in their ultimate aim of bringing their violence to our shores," the White House said.

Seven Republicans voted with the Democrats to allow the debate to proceed, including Sens. John W. Warner (Va.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and Susan M. Collins (Maine). When Republicans voted to block a similar, albeit lengthier, resolution earlier this month, only Collins and Coleman broke ranks. Among these Republicans, all but Specter and Snowe are up for reelection in 2008.

The Republican senators aside from McCain, Kyl and Corker who were absent yesterday were Robert F. Bennett (Utah), Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), John Ensign (Nev.), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted with Republicans.

The seven Republican defectors are all on record opposing the Bush plan. Several other GOP senators, including Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.) and George Voinovich (Ohio), have expressed concerns, but they voted with their party yesterday. Warner was the chief author of the earlier nonbinding resolution on Iraq to come before the Senate. That version was shelved last week for the simpler House text.

"I feel that the Senate, the Senate of the United States of America, an institution revered throughout the world, should have the right to go forward and debate this critical issue before America today, before the whole world," Warner said. "I think we've come to the point in time where we must move forward."


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