By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) announced yesterday that they will support a symbolic vote to cut off funding for combat troops in Iraq within a year, an important shift for both Democratic presidential candidates as the war debate on Capitol Hill intensifies.
The funding vote is expected in the Senate today, as one of four test votes on Iraq that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had scheduled in advance of final talks with the House and the Bush administration over a $124 billion war-spending bill.
In the House last week, 169 Democrats and two Republicans voted to withdraw troops from Iraq within nine months -- a surprisingly large number that underscores the growing determination among Democrats to legislate an end to the war.
For Clinton, the shift reflects the particular pressure on Democratic presidential candidates. She voted to authorize the war in 2002, and has resisted calls to specify a U.S. withdrawal date. But she has grown increasingly critical of the war and, two weeks ago, called for revoking President Bush's authority to continue the conflict past October without a new vote from Congress.
None of today's four Senate votes is officially part of the war-spending debate. Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to attach the measures to an unrelated water-resources bill, in an effort to allow lawmakers to express their views on Iraq while clearing a path for final spending negotiations to begin later this week.
The first Democratic amendment would set March 31, 2008, as a deadline to end funding. The second would establish that date as a withdrawal goal, with a waiver provision that Bush could invoke under certain circumstances.
Republicans will also offer two Iraq measures, including one that would set political and legislative benchmarks for the Iraqi government, linked to further U.S. reconstruction aid. The White House supports benchmarks but has opposed negative consequences if they are not met.
Obama opposed the war from the start and proposed in January a withdrawal timetable with a goal of March 31, 2008. That was similar to the plan that Congress sent to Bush last month, which he vetoed.
Obama said he will support both Democratic measures "because I want to send a strong statement to the Iraqi government, the president and my Republican colleagues that it's long past time to change course."
Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said the senator will support the new language "to send the President a clear message that it is time to change course, redeploy our troops out of Iraq, and end this war as soon as possible."
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), another 2008 Democratic hopeful who had also voted to authorize the war, signed on to the amendment to cut off funding next year. "It is up to us to change the president's failed course in Iraq and to hold the president and the Iraqi government accountable," he said. He has been running commercials in Iowa and New Hampshire criticizing his fellow presidential candidates in the Senate over "half measures" that would do little to force Bush to end the war.
None of the four amendments is expected to reach the 60-vote threshold required for passage, but Democrats hope that strong votes plus the GOP benchmark provisions will strengthen their negotiating hand as the final talks on spending begin.
"In spite of the president's stubbornness . . . we are fighting very hard to make sure that when we go to the conference we're speaking from both a position of strength, not weakness," Reid said.