Congress recesses without war funds

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Congress left for its Thanksgiving recess yesterday without passing a bill to pay for the war in Iraq. The Senate deadlocked over a Democratic demand that the measure include a call for most troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2008.

As they have all year, Senate Democrats failed to muster the votes to consider a proposal to condition further spending on a timeline for withdrawing troops. The $50 billion bill, which narrowly passed the House on Wednesday, failed by seven votes.

And Republicans in the narrowly divided chamber fell short of a majority for their alternative proposal to send President Bush $70 billion without any restrictions.

"We're in the middle of a war, and playing political games," complained Oregon Sen. Gordon H. Smith, one of the few Republicans who have consistently backed Democratic withdrawal legislation. "It's all politics, all the time in this 110th Congress."

Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, another Republican who has backed withdrawal plans, blasted Senate leaders. "By leaving town as the supplemental funding hangs in the balance, Congress is doing a disservice to the American people by ignoring its responsibilities," she said.

Members of Congress are now off for two weeks.

Maryland's senators, Democrats Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, voted to proceed with the Democratic bill to provide $50 billion in war funding, with conditions. They voted against proceeding with the Republican proposal for $70 billion without conditions.

Administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, warned this week that the impasse on Capitol Hill would force the Pentagon to take drastic measures, including shutting down military bases and laying off employees.

But congressional Democrats have dismissed the warnings, noting that Gates also said there is sufficient money to continue operations in Iraq into February. Congress just sent the administration a $471 billion measure to pay for defense spending this fiscal year, but it does not pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush has asked for $196 billion to fight the wars.

As the partisan showdown over the war escalates, there are few signs that Bush or Democrats in Congress plan to budge.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada struck a defiant tone after yesterday's vote, accusing Bush of depriving U.S. troops so he could continue to wage the war without checks. "The president just got $470 billion," Reid said. "He had the offer of getting another $50 billion with a few accountability standards in it. He refused that. So we'll see what happens."

The $50 billion spending measure called for a withdrawal to begin within 30 days after the bill was enacted, with a goal of full pullout by Dec. 15, 2008.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Fratto excoriated Democrats for failing to approve the funding. "Our troops deserve this funding, they need it, and we call on Congress to deliver it as soon as possible," he said.

The Democratic funding measure got 53 votes, seven shy of the 60-vote supermajority needed to end a filibuster. Four Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats, the same four who voted for a withdrawal proposal in July: Smith, Snowe, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Susan M. Collins of Maine.

The competing Republican measure got just 45 votes.

Three of the four Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate - Delaware's Joseph R. Biden Jr., New York's Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois' Barack Obama - voted for the withdrawal legislation. The fourth, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, was the only Democratic senator to oppose it. He has complained that the measure did not do enough to compel a pullout.

Republican presidential contender John McCain of Arizona missed both votes.

The $50 billion Democratic proposal, drawn up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants, would have allocated only enough money to fund the wars for about four more months. Like some earlier measures, it set a nonbinding goal by which most troops should be out rather than a deadline.

The measure would have allowed some U.S. forces to remain in Iraq to protect American personnel, provide limited support to Iraqi security forces and engage in targeted counter-terrorism operations.

And, to prohibit the CIA from employing coercive interrogation techniques, House Democrats added a provision that would require all detainees in U.S. custody to be interrogated under standards laid out in the Army Field Manual.

Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times. Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article.

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