Troop buildup resolution gains support

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- A revised Senate resolution criticizing President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq drew new support yesterday as two authors of a sterner resolution of disapproval said they would accept the compromise, fashioned by Sen. John W. Warner.

Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, and Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, said they would back Warner's alternative, which declares that "the Senate disagrees with the 'plan' to augment our forces by 21,500," calls on the president to consider alternatives and urges him to limit the U.S. role in countering sectarian violence.

"The bottom line of our resolutions is the same: Mr. President, don't send more Americans into the middle of civil war," said Biden, one of the authors of the initial resolution approved last week by the Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is chairman.

Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was the third author of that plan, favored by the Democratic leadership; on Wednesday he, too, agreed to support Warner, a Virginia Republican who has worked with Levin in the past on major military policy.

But at least two Democrats, Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, said they would oppose the new compromise, objecting to its symbolic nature and to wording they said could tie the hands of war critics on potential future votes over military spending. The Warner resolution says Congress should not reduce funding for troops in the field.

"I regret we are not doing something that has more bite to it," said Dodd, one of the 2008 presidential contenders in the Senate whose positions on the Iraq resolution will figure into their emerging campaign themes.

The shifting allegiances - and the intense procedural gamesmanship preceding next week's votes on Iraq - left it uncertain whether Warner's version could attract the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural obstacles.

Given the party divide in the Senate, it appeared that about a dozen Republicans would have to break from the president to allow the debate to move forward; he had only six Republicans firmly on board.

Senate Republican leaders intend to mount vigorous resistance to any plan that rejects Bush's troop increase and were mulling their options yesterday.

"The chessboard changed last night," said Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican whip. "We had them checkmated, but now everybody has to go back and look at the board."

White House spokesman Tony Snow said that Bush "will continue to exercise his responsibilities as commander in chief" even if the Senate - with House action expected to follow - approved a resolution opposing the buildup.

With the framework of the Senate debate still being set, House Democrats pounced on a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that adding 20,000 combat troops could require an additional 15,000 to 28,000 related support troops to be deployed.

The first significant Senate vote on the Iraq resolution is scheduled to occur Monday evening, when supporters of Warner's proposal will seek Senate approval to open the debate - a request that could require 60 votes.

Democrats said they were hoping they could muster that many votes or reach an agreement with Republicans on the terms of the debate, allowing it to get under way. Then lawmakers would be given a few days to lay out their views before a more crucial cloture vote, which would also require 60 votes, on limiting the debate and moving toward a final vote.

Many of the senators from both parties who represented potential swing votes on the Warner resolution said they would be reviewing it over the next few days before taking a stand.

The latest draft includes 22 paragraphs of findings, 12 more expressing the "sense of the Congress" on the best way forward, and two requiring periodic progress reports.

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