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Voice Vote Surprises Senators

The Senate’s voice vote to send a controversial $87 billion Iraq supplemental bill to President Bush’s desk on Monday took some Senators aback, given that Democrats and Republicans had been aggressively sparring over whether Bush has been adequately managing post-war Iraq.

“I was a bit surprised,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) of his own party’s willingness to let Democrats dodge having to cast a potentially tricky vote.

Echoed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), “I was surprised that was the decision.”

What’s odd about their mutual “surprise” is that all 100 Senators apparently agreed to pass the bill that way.

Both Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) followed procedure in notifying their rank and file of the potential deal to avoid a roll call vote, a process called “hotlining,” according to aides in both parties.

When none of the 100 lawmakers objected, they agreed by unanimous consent to debate the bill on Monday afternoon and deem it passed by voice vote at 5 p.m. Another roll call vote on the Interior appropriations conference report was scheduled for just a half hour later.

“It was hotlined, but nobody reacted, I guess, “ said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). “Now when you mention it to people, they say ‘Yeah, we should have had a roll call vote.’”

At issue for many Republicans is the notion that they gave the Democrats a gift by not requiring them to vote again on the measure. When the original Senate version first passed, 12 Democrats voted against it, including Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Democratic presidential candidates like Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.).

Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said he was surprised that his leadership agreed to the deal given the potential political advantage of blaming Democrats for being unpatriotic or unconcerned about U.S. troops.

“I got stuck in a Medicare conference [meeting], but I was actually going to come over [to the Senate floor] and ask for the yeas and nays,” said Nickles. “I think Daschle was trying to protect his presidential wannabes.”

Senate GOP aides said Frist was not necessarily happy about giving Democrats a pass on the bill, but he wanted to get the bill done quickly. Democrats had threatened to debate the supplemental conference report for days if Republicans did not agree to a quick voice vote, according to several GOP Senators and aides.

Daschle dismissed questions yesterday about why he agreed to give the administration an easy win by allowing the bill to pass so easily.

“Well, we expressed our displeasure,” said Daschle said Tuesday of the six-hour debate on the conference report. “I’m not sure that a roll call vote gave us the opportunity any more than Senators going to the floor and expressing themselves … yesterday.”

Meanwhile, a few Democrats conceded that they were in a politically unpalatable position once the Republican-dominated conference on the bill eliminated a Senate amendment to make part of the reconstruction funds a loan and as well as Democrats’ earlier loss in attempting to split the votes on reconstruction funding and money for troops.

Democrats did not want to vote against the nearly $67 billion in the bill that would go to U.S. troops fighting in Iraq, but they were extremely displeased with the way the additional $20 billion was to be spent on reconstruction activities, acknowledged Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

“There were conflicting measures in the bill,” said Durbin.

Even though Clinton said she was surprised that the 12 Democrats who voted against the original bill did not demand another roll call vote, she said there was a prevailing attitude among Democrats that “everybody knew it was a foregone conclusion” that the bill would pass.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was a bit more defeatist. “That fight’s over,” he said of the debate on the original version of the bill. “We had the fight on the supplemental.”

Still, Clinton said the voice vote approval would only hurt Republicans in the end, because Democrats were already on record as opponents.

“If it comes back to bite anybody, I think it’s going to bite the people who signed a blank check” for Iraqi reconstruction, she said.

But one Senate GOP aide said Republicans would actually come out on top.

“Some people who voted wrong can’t vote right now,” the GOP aide said of the Democrats who voted against the original bill but could have gotten political cover by changing their vote on the conference report. “And we wouldn’t want the left to vote right.”

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