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Iraq Will Make Repeat Appearances This Year

The House has taken the reins on the Iraq War debate this week and left the Senate to work on the more mundane 2007 joint spending resolution, but Senate Democratic leaders say their quest to get the chamber on record opposing President Bush’s policies in Iraq likely will come up again and again following next week’s scheduled recess.

“It’s not a question of if, but when,” Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said of the Iraq debate.[IMGCAP(1)]

Manley predicted that Senators are likely to see a prime vehicle for various Iraq-related amendments when the Senate takes up a bill to implement the terrorism prevention recommendations of the 9/11 commission. That measure could be on the floor as early as Feb. 26, according to Manley.

The Democratic Iraq proposals that will come up after the break will “likely go beyond the so-called nonbinding language” that Senate leaders sought to debate last week and probably will “include proposals with a little more teeth in them,” Manley said.

Manley declined to speculate on which specific Democratic amendments likely would pop up during the 9/11 commission debate, but key Democrats have floated the idea of cutting off funding for the president’s troop “surge” of 21,500 soldiers as well as trying to force Bush to redeploy troops out of Iraq and into other friendly countries in the region.

Of course, the Senate also may take another stab at a vote on a nonbinding resolution by taking up whatever the House passes this week, Manley said.

Regardless of which Iraq-related amendments may or may not be attached to the 9/11 commission measure, the debate will continue when the chamber takes up the nearly $100 billion emergency war spending bill sometime in March — following House action on the measure, which is likely to begin the week of March 12, according to House Democratic sources.

Despite accusations that Republicans thwarted debate in the Senate last week, Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said the GOP is primed to continue deliberating the Iraq War on the Senate floor and repeatedly has insisted that Democrats make the debate more substantive than a simple nonbinding resolution.

“We’re not going to shy away from this debate,” Lott said. Still, Lott warned that, as they did last week, Republicans are not going to allow Reid to set the debate parameters by restricting amendments or choosing the Republican-sponsored resolutions on which the Senate will vote.

“We have a right to have votes on some critical points,” he said.

But Lott said the Senate GOP is gearing up for other policy debates, including over Democratic energy and labor rights bills.

He predicted, however, that many Republicans would support the Democratic push for lower interest rates on college loans — a bill Manley said was unlikely to come up in the near future.

Other opportunities for bipartisan cooperation could come on a bill to ban genetic discrimination and a measure to require insurance companies to pay for mental health treatments as they would for physical maladies. Both of those measures are prime candidates for late winter or early spring votes, Manley said.

Before the Senate takes up those bills, however, partisan fights are expected on a range of bills that Democrats say are on tap for the next month or so. That list includes a measure allowing Medicare officials to negotiate lower drug prices and legislation permitting federal funding of human embryo stem-cell research.

Those measures are likely to occur sometime in March along with debate on the fiscal 2008 budget. The House is likely to debate its budget blueprint the week of March 19.

Though the House schedule after the Presidents Day break is still being worked out, one House Democratic leadership aide said the chamber might take up a bill to strengthen oversight of mergers and takeovers of U.S.-based businesses by foreign government-owned companies. The measure is designed to address perceived problems in the Bush administration’s handling of a Middle Eastern company’s attempt to take over management of major ports in the United States.

Meanwhile, House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) said last week that Democratic leaders in that chamber want to see the budget plan completed early so they can begin work on the fiscal 2008 spending bills. The deadline leaders have set for House passage of appropriations measures is on or around July 4, Spratt said.

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