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Senate GOP blocks vote on Iraq resolution

Although six Republicans co-sponsor the resolution against sending more troops, the leaders won't budge until another is considered.

By WES ALLISON
Published February 7, 2007


WASHINGTON - Publicly, at least, few senators disagree: Americans are talking about the U.S. policy in Iraq around their kitchen tables, at bowling alleys and in barbershops, and the world's greatest deliberative body should air it out, too.

But negotiations over a Senate resolution critical of President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq stalled for a second straight day, and Senate Republicans moved closer Tuesday to winning the debate simply by preventing it. At least for now.

"This is all a game, a game to divert attention from the fact that we have before us now an issue the American people want us to address: whether there should be a surge, an escalation, an augmentation of the already disastrous war in Iraq," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., fumed.

At issue is a resolution crafted by the top two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John Warner, that "disagrees" with the president's plan to send 21,500 more combat troops to Iraq.

Although it enjoys widespread Democratic support and has six Republican co-sponsors, on Monday night the resolution failed to win the 60 votes needed to survive a filibuster and proceed to debate.

Negotiations Tuesday failed. Republican leaders say they won't budge unless the Democrats also permit a vote on a separate resolution, drafted by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that expresses support for the troops in Iraq and their continued funding.

Democrats say the Gregg measure is unnecessary, because the same provisions are included in the Levin-Warner resolution. But their concerns go deeper than that: Some Democrats aren't ready to engage in a separate debate over war funding, an issue that could alienate moderate voters.

Meanwhile, Republicans are insisting that if they bring them up, both the Gregg and Levin-Warner resolutions must get 60 votes to pass. While the Gregg measure is almost guaranteed to get that - who wants to vote against the troops? - the Levin-Warner bill is not.

Stalemate.

"The only place in the United States of America where the war in Iraq isn't being debated is the United States Senate," Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said. "We're debating whether to have the debate."

But Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., joined other Republicans in arguing it was simply a matter of fairness: If the Democrats want a vote on Levin-Warner, they ought to allow a vote on Gregg.

"It's the most important debate facing the nation," Martinez said. "To sort of lock it up in one bill or one resolution doesn't seem fair."

He added, "Or no resolution - that would be okay, too."

Democrats hold a two-vote margin over the Republicans, but this dispute shows the difficulty they face using their slim majority against the White House.

But it also highlighted a chasm among Senate Republicans. While the White House and many conservatives were thrilled by the stalemate, moderate Republicans from swing states are under pressure to question the president's handling of Iraq.

"It's very important to move forward with the debate," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of two Republicans who voted to proceed with the Levin resolution. "This is a pressing issue, and one that the American public is following closely."

In the U.S. House, the ruling Democrats were planning to wait and see what passed the Senate before acting on their own Iraq resolution.

But with the Senate apparently at loggerheads, and a Washington's Birthday recess coming, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced Tuesday three days would be set aside next week for debate.

Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or 202 463-0577.