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Senate Iraq Bill to Include Withdrawal Language

Intent on setting up a showdown with the White House over its handling of the Iraq War, Senate Democrats today will insert language into their supplemental spending bill placing strict limits on President Bush’s war plans and requiring a massive troop redeployment by next March.

Senate appropriators were expected today to include in the supplemental Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) Iraq resolution, which was defeated by the Senate last week along largely partisan lines. Additionally, Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) included two additional Iraq provisions, one creating a series of benchmarks Iraqis must meet as well as one requiring regular reports to Congress on progress in Iraq by U.S. military leaders.

“The White House has abdicated its leadership on this issue, and so it is left to Congress to speak for the people. This is not micromanagement; this is management, period. This is not tying the hands of our military commanders; this is returning the foreign policy of the United States to a strong, responsible path,” Byrd said.

Democratic leadership aides said Wednesday that Reid and other leaders believe they can beat back efforts by Republicans to strip the bill and ultimately pass the multibillion-dollar war package next week.

According to a Democratic aide close to the committee, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — who has bucked his leadership several times in the past several months over Iraq — will vote to pass the supplemental package out of the Appropriations Committee, and Democratic and GOP leadership aides agreed it would make it to the floor.

One senior aide also said Democrats are willing to play a high-stakes game of political chicken with Bush over the language, explaining that depending on how long conference talks with the House take, Democrats could decide to force Bush to choose between vetoing legislation designed to fund troops and bringing an end to the unpopular war. Top generals “have told us they need the money by the end of April, so we’ll see,” the aide said.

But while GOP strategists in the Senate conceded it could be difficult to block the bill, they said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other leaders would look to strip it from the bill during floor debate. “If they want to try and filibuster that, it’s up to them,” one GOP aide said.

Several Republicans also said they would look to use public distaste for earmarks as part of their messaging against the bill, noting that Democrats have included provisions not directly related to the war.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service last week issued a new report on the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which concluded the Bush administration has provided Congress with inadequate data on spending to adequately judge future costs when developing annual appropriations bills and supplemental packages.

Additionally the report, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” found that this inadequate data makes Congressional oversight difficult to perform.

“For Congress to assess the new FY2007 Supplemental and Department of Defense war costs in FY2008, conduct oversight of past war costs, and consider future alternatives for Iraq that range from the temporary increase in troop levels proposed by the president to a complete withdrawal, Congress needs considerably better information on costs than has been provided in the past,” the CRS report states.

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