By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The Senate yesterday rejected a nine-month timetable for bringing most troops home from Iraq, yet another legislative defeat for Democrats in what is shaping up as a losing battle to force President Bush to end the war.
The proposal, offered by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), fell on a 47 to 47 vote, with 60 votes needed for passage. Three Democrats refused to back the plan, and three Republicans supported it, but the result showed little movement from a similar vote in July.
Levin said he and Reed would explore ways to alter their proposal to attract more support in time to schedule another vote next week, before the Senate completes debate on an annual defense policy bill and moves on to other matters.
"We didn't make it today, but we're going to keep trying," Levin said. "The stakes are just simply too high to stop what we're doing, which is putting pressure on President Bush to change course and on [Iraqi] Prime Minister [Nouri al-]Maliki to change course."
The major sticking point for opponents was the June 2008 deadline that Levin and Reed established for withdrawing most combat troops. In the next version, that fixed date may become a flexible goal to allow the military more leeway.
"We have enough votes here to be confident that we can build on this number, providing we can find the formula which will attract those additional votes," Levin said.
But the weaker the language becomes, the less appeal it will hold for antiwar Democrats, who oppose yielding any ground to Republicans.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), a Democratic presidential candidate, voted no yesterday because he thought that even a firm withdrawal date is not aggressive enough and that Congress must go further and cut off funding. "The only way to achieve real change in Iraq is to insist on a firm and enforceable deadline for redeploying U.S. combat troops that is tied to funding which is the only way we can end this war," he said.
The failure of the Levin-Reed measure marked the third time this week that the Senate rejected a Democratic war proposal, beginning with the defeat Wednesday of a plan to extend time between deployments for troops. By yesterday, the party's frustration was palpable.
"Countless words, reams of paper, and oh-so-much ink have been spent on the Iraq debate here in the Senate," Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor before the vote, as he urged Republicans to cross over. "This amendment is a reasonable and responsible way forward."
As the Democrats struggled, Republicans sounded emboldened. The public has grown more patient on Iraq, they argued, after a report last week from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, showing security improvements, and after Bush's announcement that he would begin to slowly withdraw troops.
"It is inconceivable that we in Congress would end this strategy just as it is beginning to show real results," said Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a Republican presidential candidate.
GOP Senate offices circulated the results of a Gallup poll released this week that showed 54 percent of those surveyed think Petraeus's plan for removing troops is the right pace, or even too quick. One-third of those surveyed viewed the withdrawal as moving too slowly.
Democrats, meanwhile, have already turned their attention to other legislative vehicles, including the fiscal 2008 defense spending bill and a supplemental war funding request that could reach $200 billion. House Democrats have warned that they may stall action on the supplemental request until early next year. And Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), a staunch war opponent, has already warned that the White House will not receive a blank check on Iraq.
Byrd is expected to outline his views on new war spending in a Senate floor speech Monday. He scheduled a hearing on Iraq funding for Wednesday, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte; and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.