By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid yesterday endorsed the Senate's toughest antiwar bill yet, a bid to cut off funding within a year, sending a clear signal to President Bush that the Iraq debate will continue in Congress regardless of whether he carries through on his veto threats.
Reid (Nev.) announced that he had teamed up with Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.), one of the Democrats' strongest war critics, on legislation to set a deadline of March 31, 2008, for completing the withdrawal of combat forces and ending most military spending in Iraq.
Reid's decision came as House and Senate Democrats were just starting to deliberate a compromise war spending bill. The package is likely to include language at least calling for troop withdrawals to begin, but the Feingold plan would go much further, essentially giving Bush a year to end most U.S. military activities before the money dries up.
Reid had previously opposed setting a firm end date for the war, a stance he has backed away from in recent months as others in his party moved to increase pressure on Bush. He officially converted after visiting wounded soldiers last week at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"Talk about a way to be depressed," Reid said yesterday in a talk-radio interview with liberal host Ed Schultz. "The American people, I repeat, have to understand what is happening. It is not worth another drop of American blood in Iraq. It is not worth another damaged brain."
The White House was quick to circulate a quote Reid made on Nov. 30, shortly after Democrats won control of Congress. "We're not going to do anything to limit funding or cut off funds," he said at the time.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino acknowledged the hardening Democratic stance on Iraq. "There's just these shifting sands when it comes to the Democrats and their decisions," she told reporters. "It's almost shifting so fast, it's like a sandstorm."
Most Republicans and some Democrats oppose setting a final withdrawal deadline, despite whatever concerns they may have about the course of the war.
"It's completely arbitrary. It was pulled out of thin air. And the terrorists have already marked it on their calendars," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
An even greater number on both sides of the aisle are unwilling to cut off funding. McConnell noted that 96 senators, Reid among them, voted last month in favor of Congress taking no action "to undermine the safety of the Armed Forces of the United States or impact their ability to complete their assigned or future missions."
But Reid's move was at least partly a challenge to Bush and Republican leaders in Congress, making clear that the outcome of the current spending bill would not settle the Iraq debate.
"If the President vetoes the supplemental appropriations bill and continues to resist changing course in Iraq, I will work to ensure this legislation receives a vote in the Senate in the next work period," Reid said in a statement.
The Feingold-Reid bill calls for Bush to begin withdrawing troops within four months, similar to the language in the Senate's $122 billion spending package. But it would prohibit funding beyond the March 31 deadline, except for counterterrorism, security and training operations.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the Democratic leader does not expect the bill to become the official position of Senate Democrats, given its strong terms, but rather the "next in a series of steps designed to try to force a change in administration policy."
Bush is demanding a final spending bill from House and Senate conferees as quickly as possible. "It's time now for Congress to deliver the money to our troops," Perino said.
Reid responded that Democrats would continue to fight for withdrawal language as part of the package, even if it forces Bush to veto it.
"We're not going to back up one second on this, on this veto threat," said Reid, pointing out that a report last week by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluded that the military does not need the new funding until July.