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McConnell: Get the Veto Over With

Like ripping off a Band-Aid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that he just wants to get the inevitable over with and have President Bush veto a Democratic-crafted emergency war spending bill. [IMGCAP(1)]

Far from being concerned about whether he has the votes this week to eliminate a Democratic provision establishing a suggested timetable for withdrawal from the Iraq War, McConnell instead indicated that — regardless of the outcome of that vote — Republicans would not attempt to filibuster any House-Senate conference report even if it includes a mandatory or optional date for troops to begin coming home.

Implying that Republicans could get a timetable-free bill by simply waiting for Democrats to concede defeat, McConnell said, “I think we need to get the bill on down to the president, get the veto out of the way, and get serious about passing a troop funding bill.”

In fact, McConnell urged haste in passing the bill this week, saying, “We need to have enough time to get through the veto process and repass this bill.”

He added that Democrats, who are unlikely to find two-thirds in either chamber willing to override a veto, would be forced to pass a war spending bill without any withdrawal language.

Trying to pass anything else following a veto would be “a political calamity for them if that’s what they decided to do,” McConnell said.

However, that doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t be going through the motions this week. Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is expected to offer an amendment striking the Senate bill’s goal of redeploying troops by March 31, 2008.

Indeed, McConnell condemned the language, even as he downplayed the outcome on the Senate floor.

“When you put in a date [for withdrawal], you’re giving notice to the enemy when you’re going to give up,” he said.

Still, McConnell said he was not sure whether he would be able to replicate the 48-50 vote that killed a similar, free-standing resolution nearly two weeks ago.

“You always have anxiety, but I would hope Members would be prepared to vote this week the same that they did” last time, he said.

And it appeared that at least one Republican vote could be changing in favor of the Democrats. On ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) left open the possibility of voting for the resolution, saying, “I will not continue to support with my vote the status quo.”

However, McConnell said several Republicans actually support language in the bill requiring bimonthly reports on whether the new Iraqi government is meeting benchmarks in preparation for taking over security for the country.

Meanwhile, Democrats became increasingly concerned Monday that the White House would use next week’s recess as fodder for accusing Democrats of abandoning the needs of troops to go on vacation. In a move to pre-empt that from happening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday decided to use a procedural tool to limit debate — a motion to invoke cloture — on the supplemental in the hopes of wrapping up work on the measure by Wednesday or Thursday.

A Democratic leadership aide pointed to statements in President Bush’s weekend radio address as an indication that “they are ramping up a major message offensive” based on the recess and that Reid decided it was better to limit Democrats’ vulnerabilities during the week.

While the debate over the Iraq pullout resolution will likely dominate, the Senate won’t just be focused on a few pages of text in the $121.6 billion bill. After all, there is money to be spent, and Republican opposition partially is predicated on what the GOP says is unnecessary domestic spending included in the bill.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) will be playing a familiar role this week as he targets what he deems the most egregious pork-barrel spending in the bill. Coburn spokesman John Hart said Coburn still is deciding which provisions to target and may offer “dozens” of amendments.

But one proposal Coburn is almost certain to offer, Hart said, is one to strip $100 million from the bill for the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential nominating conventions.

“Congress will have to choose between booze and balloons or body armor and bullets,” Hart said.

He also questioned whether money for the conventions fit the “emergency” designation of the spending bill. “Is the presidential election an unforeseen circumstance? Were we taken by surprise by the campaigns?” Hart quipped.

Similarly, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) will attempt to highlight what he considers the hypocrisy of Democratic appropriators, who last year promised to pass an “earmark-free” omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2007. While Democrats were true to their word and did not include earmarks in the omnibus passed last month, the supplemental war spending bill includes language rescinding $2 million from the omnibus and then earmarks it for an award to the University of Vermont’s Educational Excellence Program.

So DeMint plans to ask unanimous consent today or Wednesday to begin implementing Senate earmark rules immediately, requiring Senators who author such provisions to claim them as their own, stipulate who would benefit and avow that they have no financial interest in the earmark.

While implementing the rules this week would not affect the war spending bill because it already is on the floor, DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said the inclusion of the University of Vermont earmark “blatantly” violates the spirit of new earmark rules approved by the Senate in January. The rules have not taken effect while the Senate waits on a conference committee with the House on a lobbying and ethics bill.

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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