Senate Democrats moved closer Tuesday toward acceding to the Bush administration’s demands on war funding.
With a growing number of lawmakers deciding that legislation providing some money to the troops could not be put off until next year, the Senate Democratic leadership discussed different approaches to preserving some of the many restrictions on the war funding that House Democrats passed.
Aides said the Senate could hold a series of votes this month, each with progressively less restrictive language on the administration’s ability to conduct the war.
The options that Senate leaders were considering included omitting withdrawal dates or designating funds only for Afghanistan.
However, with the Senate’s legislative calendar already full for the remainder of the year, a consensus appeared to be growing that a prolonged fight over Iraq policy with President Bush probably would have to wait until next spring.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said that Senate votes on Iraq War funding probably would not come until next week.
Durbin acknowledged that Democrats probably had no choice but to abandon many, if not all, of the restrictions they hoped to place on funding for the wars.
“We’re dealing with the reality that the White House has given us very stark choices,” Durbin said. “We’re still determined to change this policy in Iraq, but we’re trying to do it in the context of the latest White House positions.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, increasingly confident that the Democrats will fold and provide war funding with weak or no restrictions, showed little appetite to negotiate.
Ted Stevens of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said Republicans were no closer to accepting policy restrictions on the war funding, and that Democrats were postponing the inevitable.
“This isn’t a shell game. There are no concessions to be made,” Stevens said. “Either they’re going to put up the money or they’re not.”
Durbin said the first step could be to bring up the House-passed $50 billion war funding bill (HR 4156) for another vote. That measure failed on Nov. 16 to achieve the 60 votes needed to proceed to debate in the Senate, and it’s likely to fare no better the second time around.
If that approach fails, several Democrats said the most likely proposition would be to vote on a war funding bill containing language by Carl Levin, D-Mich., Senate Armed Services Committee chairman.
Levin’s proposal would preserve the House’s call for a change of mission in Iraq but exclude specific withdrawal dates the House bill included.
Levin said time was not on the Democrats’ side and that to delay the funding issue until next year would only invite more pressure on the party while increasing the risks for the troops.
In addition to Levin’s plan, several other ideas for speeding some funds to the troops this month were emerging. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has stepped up his call for war spending to be included in a grand bargain that would involve finishing work on the 11 unfinished appropriations bills.
And several aides speculated that if the outstanding budget work is not completed by Dec. 14, when the current continuing resolution (PL 110-116) expires, some war funding could be included in a new stopgap funding measure.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, has strongly opposed both of those ideas.
A House Democratic aide confirmed that one option under discussion was a $30 billion war funding measure that would restrict the money to operations in Afghanistan.
But senior House Republicans quickly called that proposal a non-starter. “It doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” said Adam H. Putnam, R-Fla., chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Ben Nelson – a Democrat from Nebraska and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who advocates funding the administration’s full $196.4 billion fiscal 2008 war funding request – expressed concern that Democrats were overplaying their hand by forcing a showdown over the funding without having any real leverage over Republicans to back up their position.
Nelson questioned the logic of holding votes on language that the Senate has recently rejected. “It’s sort of Groundhog Day when it comes to Iraq right now with all these proposals,” he said.
Postponing War Debate Until March
Meanwhile, moderate senators from both parties called for a compromise position on Iraq, but none received support from their leadership in their efforts to reach across the aisle.
“It’s high noon at the OK Corral,” said Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine. “I don’t know that we need to be playing that episode every day.”
Republican John W. Warner of Virginia, a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who played a key role in forging a compromise during last year’s battle over supplemental funding, said that since all the funding proposals being floated would only carry the military until March, that would be the time to re-engage the war policy debate.
Until then, he said, the Senate had “to move forward with the funding, and they’ve got to do it now.”
Edward Epstein and David Clarke contributed to this story.