At CQ, Josh Rogin writes:
Senate Democrats appear ready to omit Iraq withdrawal timelines from a supplemental spending bill in hopes of clearing in December funds for the troops — but House leaders have no intentions of following suit.
The next partial-year war funding bill, although by no means finalized, would still include the Democrats’ call for a change of mission in Iraq, but without controversial withdrawal dates — a move that is intended to draw enough Republican votes to advance legislation in the Senate.
That plan places Senate Democratic leaders in conflict with their House counterparts, who have gone to great lengths to assure rank-and-file members that no more war spending bills would be enacted before January.
Meanwhile, Republicans seem content to let the Democrats negotiate among themselves, waiting for them to move incrementally toward what they regard as the forgone conclusion that Congress eventually will send President Bush a “clean” supplemental bill without policy restrictions.
The Senate on Nov. 16 rejected two war funding bills — a Democratic proposal and a Republican alternative — sending leaders back to the drawing board for a plan to get money to the troops.
Two of the most powerful voices on Defense in the Senate — Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and Daniel K. Inouye, a Democrat representing Hawaii who is chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee — both said Democrats would offer a less restrictive version of the their party’s bill in December.
“There’s going to be a modification of the bridge fund,” Levin said.
The war spending bill is often referred to as a “bridge fund” because it is only a down payment on the $196.4 billion Bush requested in war spending for fiscal 2008. The bridge fund is intended to keep money flowing to the troops until Congress considers the balance of Bush’s request.
Levin said one option being discussed was a bill that still would require a change of mission in Iraq but doesn’t include specific dates, something the Republicans have repeatedly focused on in their criticisms.
“These are possibilities, I’m not predicting outcomes,” Levin added.
Inouye said, “We’ve got to build another bridge.”
But the senior senator from Hawaii said he was uncertain that Republicans would buy it.
“We’ll see,” he said.
On Nov. 16, two war funding bills fell well short of the 60 votes need to advance in the Senate.
First, a Republican bill (S 2340), which would provide $70 billion without restrictions, was rejected, 45-53.
Later, the supplemental spending bill (HR 4156) that had passed the House two days earlier fell on a 53-45 vote.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has said she would not bring another war funding bill to the floor this year, a concession she made to liberal caucus members in order to pass the House bill.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pointedly refused to rule out a December war funding bill in the Senate when speaking to reporters Nov. 16.
“The House has made its position clear. Speaking for the Senate, we’re going to continue doing the right thing,” Reid said.
Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was aware there is a plan for the next war spending bill to lack a withdrawal timeline.
But he said his own proposal, which would provide the full $196.4 billion requested — but require a change of mission and calls for a series of reports in March — could come after that.
Nelson has been working with Susan Collins, R-Maine, on that language. He said he is waiting in line for Democratic leadership to support his idea, if and when the next plan goes down.
“Sometimes, everything else has to fail before something gets resolved,” Nelson said.
Nelson pitched his plan as a “starting point,” acknowledging that even more concessions might be necessary if Republicans reject his proposal, whenever it gets a hearing.
Democrats have been unable to strike the right tone in their legislative attempts to attract enough Republicans to achieve meaningful change to the president’s war policy.
“I don’t know what it really takes in this political, partisan environment right now to get ‘yes’ for an answer from enough people,” Nelson said.
The GOP Digs In
Senate Republicans, sensing vulnerability in the Democrats’ resolve, seemed ready to dig in their heels.
Ted Stevens of Alaska, the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee ranking Republican, reacted harshly to the idea of a modified bill that would preserve some restrictions on the president.
“That’s a non-starter!” he exclaimed.
Stevens reiterated that Republicans would support no constraints on the power of the executive to execute military policy.
“We don’t negotiate missions. That’s for the commander in chief, and that’s all there is to it,” Stevens said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared that he would not let up on his pressure to debate and pass another war funding bill next month.
“That clearly must be done some time before we adjourn . . . for this session,” he said.
Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a Senate Armed Services Committee member, indicated that Republicans would continue to point to recent successes on the ground in Iraq, attack the Democrats for seeking political gain at the expense of troops, and defer to the advice of the generals.
“We should not, as a group of politicians, take for ourselves the responsibility of mandating how we should be prosecuting this war,” Sessions said.
Meanwhile, moderates from both parties are left without support from their leadership as they try to find a middle ground that would lead to congressional unity regarding Iraq policy.
“We should be sitting down and working on a compromise,” said Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, one of only a few Republicans to vote for withdrawal timelines.
The environment on Capitol Hill is “so partisan, so polarizing, and so poisonous, that it’s impeding our ability to solve the problems of our nation, with monumental consequences,” she said.
Friday, November 16, 2007
At CQ, Josh Rogin writes: