Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will renew his push to end the war in Iraq as his chamber begins work on the 2008 defense authorization bill Monday.
Recently, a handful of Republican senators have broken ranks with the White House on President Bush’s Iraq policy. Reid will force them to vote with or against the President before the August recess, adding pressure to the fracture within the GOP on the issue of Iraq.
Beginning Monday, a series of Democrat-sponsored amendments will be introduced to the bill to mandate a date for withdrawal, to slow the rotation of deployments to Iraq, to limit U.S. missions in the region, and to revoke the Senate’s 2002 authorization of the war.
Although these amendments have yet to be formally announced, a handful of Democratic senators have publicly discussed the amendments they will sponsor. Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) and Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) have signaled that they will sponsor an amendment to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq within 120 days. It also aims for full withdrawal by April 2008.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), who spent the Senate’s Fourth of July recess campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President, will introduce an amendment to the bill to “de-authorize” war operations in Iraq by setting, as she calls it, an October 11, 2007 “expiration date” for the war. That date is the 5 year anniversary of when Clinton, along with the majority of the Senate, voted to authorize President Bush to use force in Iraq. Her amendment will be co-sponsored with skilled Senate parliamentarian Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.V.).
Sen. Jim Webb (D.-Va.) has been working on a military readiness amendment to delay deployments to Iraq. His amendment will require soldiers to take time off between deployments for a period at least as long that they were previously deployed. Leader Reid explained in a June 12 press conference that Webb’s amendment could be “something very simple that says a soldier cannot go back to Iraq until he's home for the length of time he's been there; 15 months, 15 months.”
The new Democratic Congress spent their first three months in power passing an emergency supplemental Iraq spending bill that President Bush ultimately vetoed because it contained withdrawal date for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. The language was then stripped from a second version of the bill and later signed by the President.
This time around, Leader Reid believes anti-war Democrats have an upper hand over the President. “Remember, this isn’t a spending bill,” Reid said on June 12. “This is an authorization bill. So, we’re playing in our territory now, not the President’s.”
The $648 billion defense authorization bill legislates what government money can be spent on. The FY 2008 defense spending bill, to be considered by the Senate this fall, then releases government money to be spent on those authorized projects. By severely limiting what war operations the government will fund in the authorization bill, anti-war senators could evade a controversial vote to explicitly de-fund military activities.
Reid’s efforts to push for withdrawal and de-funding are scheduled at an opportune time for anti-war Democrats. In the past two weeks, five formerly pro-war Republican senators have publicly split with the White House on Iraq: Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Sen. Pete Domenici (N.M.), Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio).
Lugar, ranking member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said on June 25 that he did not believe the President’s surge of 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq would be successful.
Voinovich, also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, called on the President just days later to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Over Fourth of July recess, Domenici said, “We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward.”
Leader Reid has since latched on to these statements to propel anti-war momentum.
In a statement released on July 6, Reid said: “Senator Domenici is correct to assess that the Administration’s war strategy is misguided. But we will not see a much-needed change of course in Iraq until Republicans like Senators Domenici, Lugar and Voinovich are willing to stand up to President Bush and his stubborn clinging to a failed policy – and more importantly, back up their words with action. Beginning with the Defense Authorization bill next week, Republicans will have the opportunity to not just say the right things on Iraq, but vote the right way too so that we can bring the responsible end to this war that the American people demand and deserve.”
On July 7, the Los Angeles Times reported that both Alexander and Gregg said in separate interviews that they believed the President must soon change course in Iraq. Neither said whether they would support legislation to withdraw forces. Republican senators Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and John Warner (Va.) have disagreed with President Bush’s Iraq strategy for months and are likely to support other members of the GOP who openly question the administration’s strategy in the coming weeks.