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Senate Begins Debate On Iraq Resolutions

February 5, 2007 - by

<img src=“http://www.rollcall.com/images_rollcall_acm/mccain020507.jpg” align=right height=“220” width="290">On Jan. 9, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a bill that would require Congress’ approval before additional troops or funds could be sent to the war in Iraq. This bill was the first of an ensuing barrage of variegated Iraq-related resolutions. Now, almost a month later, the Senate is getting ready to begin its debate on the first of these bills with one that is so different from Kennedy’s that it explicitly does nothing to affect the war. The Warner-Levin resolution, which will be the subject of a debate beginning today, simply serves to express the sense that “the Senate disagrees with the ‘plan’ to augment our forces by 21,500.” It also “urges” the president to “consider” some recommendations that is outlined within. Whereas Kennedy’s bill would become a binding law if passed, the Warner-Levin proposal is in the form of a non-binding concurrent resolution — a kind of resolution that can never have the power of law and is commonly used to express Congress’ opinions.

The Warner-Levin resolution was chosen by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) as a starting point for discussions on Iraq because it seems to have the most support from senators. For any of these resolutions to be filibuster-proof and earn the endorsement of the Senate, it will need to attract at least 60 votes. This Bloomberg article speculates that right now, the Warner-Levin resolution has the support of about 59 senators. Senators will be able to offer amendments to attract more support, but votes gained from one side will likely be coupled with losses from the other. A cloture vote (a vote to end debate and force a vote on passage of the resolution) is scheduled for Monday afternoon, with the possibility of another one on Tuesday.

Many senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), support President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, and so oppose any kind of resolution that criticizes the plan. Others want a law-binding resolution, and will not vote for one that is non-binding. Senate Republicans have been challenging Democrats to champion a binding resolution. “I do believe that if you really believe that this is doomed to failure and is going to cost American lives, then you should do what’s necessary to prevent it from happening rather than a vote of ‘disapproval,’” said Senator John McCain (R-AZ). A binding resolution will not find enough support to pass, but any senator who votes for a resolution limiting troops or funds could then be labeled as opposing the troops that are already there, a position that Democrats have been careful to avoid.

Republicans who oppose the non-binding Warner-Levin resolution are concerned that, even though it has no direct effect on the implementation of President Bush’s latest plan, it will still be seen as a symbolic vote of no-confidence in the mission. They argue the resolution could both damage troop morale and make us look weak in the eyes of the enemy. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called it “the worst of all outcomes,” one that represented “a symbolic going-to-the-pier before the troops ship off to say, ‘We believe in you but you’re going to lose’.”

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