Senate GOP Will Not Block Iraq Bill

By ANNE FLAHERTY
The Associated Press
Monday, March 26, 2007; 9:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he will try to block a Democratic effort to force troop withdrawal but won't stand in the way of the Iraq spending bill that would contain it because he knows President Bush would veto the package.

"Our goal is to pass it quickly," said McConnell, R-Ky. "Our troops need the money."

Unable to override Bush's veto, Democrats would have to redraft the bill without a "surrender deadline," he said.

The Senate faces a cliffhanging vote this week on whether to uphold the withdrawal provision in a $122 billion bill that would finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The legislation would require that Bush begin pulling out some troops right away with the goal of ending combat missions by March 31, 2008.

The legislation also provides about $20 billion for domestic programs, and increasingly looks like a magnet for far-flung other issues such as a proposed increase in the minimum wage.

Republicans have demanded tax cuts as a condition for their support of a higher minimum wage, and officials said key senators were drafting a provision for debate that would include both those issues. It calls for tax cuts at least as high as the $8.3 billion package the Senate passed earlier, if not larger. House Democrats have labeled that amount excessive.

Still, most of the debate surrounding the measure centers on the Iraq War.

The House passed a troops-pullout measure last week, but with a tougher deadline. Whereas the Senate identifies March 2008 as a goal _ giving the president leeway to ignore the deadline _ the House voted 218-212 to require all combat troops out as of Aug. 31, 2008.

"The United States Senate will ensure they have everything they need to continue this fight as we have done," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. But "we must also ensure that our soldiers have a strategy for success."

The Senate will vote as early as Tuesday on a Republican amendment to strip the withdrawal language from the bill.

"Congress should not be tying the hands of our commanders or limiting their flexibility to respond to threats on the battlefield," said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.


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