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Reid Previews the Iraq-Bill Conference Report

April 23, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Congress has been working long and hard on a bill that funds the war in Iraq while putting more pressure on the Iraqi government to step up and setting a date for U.S. troops to be withdrawn. The bill has been passed in both the House and the Senate, and at 4:30 this afternoon negotiators from the two chambers will meet to hammer out some minor differences before sending it along to President Bush, who has repeatedly stated his intention to veto it.

Much of the actual negotiating has been happening behind closed doors since the bills were passed. Today’s negotiations are more of a formality than anything else. The conference committee will agree on a report that melds together the two bills. The report will then go directly back to the full chambers of Congress for a vote — probably on Wednesday in the House and on Thursday in the Senate. The bill, as reported, will not be open to amendments, but it will be open to a motion to recommit back to the conference committee in the House. The report should find enough support to be approved in both chambers, but not enough in either chamber to override the President’s veto.

The press will not be allowed in to broadcast today’s conference committee hearing, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) this morning laid out the five-step plan that he says the conference committee will approve:

>Our first step immediately transitions the U.S. mission away from policing a civil war— to training and equipping Iraqi security forces, protecting U.S. forces and conducting targeted counter-terror operations.
>This transitions our mission to one that is aligned with U.S. strategic interests, while at the same time, reducing our combat footprint. U.S. troops should not be interjecting themselves between warring factions, kicking down doors, trying to sort Shia from Sunni or friend from foe.
>Our second step calls for beginning the phased redeployment of our troops no later than October 1, 2007 with a goal of removing all combat forces by April 1, 2008, except for those carrying out the limited missions I just mentioned.
>This puts pressure on the Iraqis to make the desperately needed political compromises;
>It reduces the specter of the U.S. occupation which gives fuel to the insurgency;
>It allows some of our forces to be moved to other areas of the world where they are needed, such as Afghanistan;
>And it allows our badly strained military force a chance to rebuild. With not a single non-deployed Army unit battle- ready, this is critically important.
>Our third step imposes tangible, measurable and achievable benchmarks on the Iraqi government so that they will be held accountable for making progress on security, political reconciliation, and improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis who have suffered so much.
>Our fourth step launches the kind of diplomatic, economic and political offensive that the president’s strategy lacks, starting with a regional conference working toward a long-term framework for stability in the region.
>And our fifth step rebuilds our overburdened military to give them the manpower and support they need to face the daunting challenges that lie ahead. We call for an end to the deployment of non-battle ready forces and we include billions to improve the military health system.

The withdrawal date of April 1, 2008 is non-binding. Still, President Bush plans to veto this bill. Lawmakers who favor ending the war in Iraq will then begin looking at some other options to fund the troops until they can pass legislation to end the war. One possibility is to supply war funds in two-month increments while continuing to work on passing a separate bill that sets an end date.

As the months pass, it is likely that pressure on the President to end the war will continue to increase. The decision will then come down to a choice between protecting his own image or that of his entire party — either he caves in, or else passes along an incredibly unpopular platform to his party’s 2008 presidential candidates.

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