Republicans block Senate debate on Iraq buildup resolution

Monday, February 5th 2007, 6:25 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans blocked a full-fledged Senate debate over Iraq on Monday, but Democrats vowed they would eventually find a way to force President Bush to change course in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops.

``We must heed the results of the November elections and the wishes of the American people,'' said Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid, D-Nev., spoke moments before a vote that sidetracked a nonbinding measure expressing disagreement with Bush's plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq. The 49-47 vote was 11 short of the 60 needed to go ahead with debate, and left the fate of the measure uncertain.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky described the test vote as merely a ``bump in the road'' that could possibly be overcome within hours. GOP lawmakers ``welcome the debate and are happy to have it,'' he said, adding they were insisting on equal treatment for an alternative measure expected to draw strong support.

The proposal, by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., says Congress should neither cut nor eliminate funding for troops in the field. That measure takes no position on the war or the president's decision to deploy additional forces.

The political jockeying unfolded as bombings and mortar attacks killed dozens across Baghdad amid indications that a much-awaited operation to restore peace to the capital is gearing up. Bush announced last month he would beef up U.S. troop deployments to work alongside Iraqi units in an attempt to quell sectarian violence.

Democrats sought passage of a measure, supported by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that is critical of the administration's new Iraq policy. It was the first time Democrats had scheduled a sustained debate on the war since they won control over Congress in last fall's midterm elections.

``The American people do not support escalation. Last November, voters made it clear they want a change of course, not more of the same,'' said Reid. ``The president must hear from Congress, so he knows he stands in the wrong place, alone.''

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, echoed Reid. ``If the Republicans want to stand by their president and his policy, they shouldn't run from this debate. If they believe we should send thousands of our young soldiers into the maws of this wretched civil war, they should at least have the courage to stand and defend their position,'' he said.

But Gregg differed with them. ``We should not take action once soldiers have been sent into the field and are putting their lives at risk,'' he said. ``We should not be saying to them through a resolution, which is nonbinding, that we don't think the mission you're on makes sense and we don't want you to do it.''

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota sided with Democrats on the vote. Reid switched sides at the end, a step that allows him to call for a new roll call at his discretion.

The war has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel so far, and costs are counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The administration has asked Congress for $245 billion more to cover the costs of the conflict through 2008.

Political maneuvering surrounding the issue has been intense, and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration supports ``Sen. McConnell's and the Republicans' right to be able to offer the amendments they want to offer.''

Behind the procedural quarrel lay uncertainty about the verdict the Senate would ultimately reach on Bush's decision to send 21,500 additional troops.

Democrats hoped to gain enough Republican votes to pass the measure expressing disagreement with Bush's decision, and to send the commander in chief an extraordinary wartime rebuke on a bipartisan vote.

It was an outcome that the White House and Senate Republican leadership hoped to avoid. They concentrated on a relatively small number of swing votes, many of them belonging to GOP senators expected to be on the ballot in 2008.

Gregg's alternative said Congress should not take ``any action that will endanger United States military forces in the field, including the elimination or reduction of funds for troops in the field, as such an action with respect to funding would undermine their safety or harm their effectiveness in pursuing their assigned missions.''

The measure advanced by Democrats and Warner said the same thing, but it also said the Senate ``disagrees with the `plan' to augment our forces by 21,500 and urges the president instead to consider all options and alternatives.''

Republicans and Democrats carried out their clash as 10 members of ``Code Pink,'' an anti-war group, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct during a protest in front of Arizona Sen. John McCain's office in a building across the street from the Capitol. ``They were absolutely compliant, peaceful,'' Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said of the protesters.

McCain, a likely Republican presidential candidate, opposes the measure expressing disagreement with the increase in troops.