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An Iraq Proposal that Just Might Pass the Senate

September 16, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: The Webb amendment, discussed below, has failed once again. Not a single “aye” vote gained.

We’ve heard recently from the GAO, the military, and the White House. This week we’ll hear from Congress on how to move forward in Iraq.

Today, the Senate today will once again take up debate of the Department of Defense Authorization bill that they pulled from the table in July after failing to break a Republican filibuster in an all-night session. This bill represents Congress’s best chance of passing legislation to change the course of the war. Since it’s not a funding bill, lawmakers who oppose the war can vote for defense policy without worrying about being left vulnerable to claims that they have risked sacrificing funding for the troops who are currently deployed.

Lately, the Democratic leadership in the Senate has been talking about finding a middle-of-the-road approach on Iraq and they seem to have settled on an amendment offered by Jim Webb (D-VA) — pictured. It’s actually the same amendment they chose to begin the defense authorization debate with in July. In it’s first go-around in the Senate, it was pulled from the floor after failing to overcome a Republican filibuster by a vote of 56-41. It takes 60 votes to defeat a filibuster and the Democratic leadership is guessing that right now the amendment has about 57.

The stated purpose of Webb’s amendment is “to specify minimum periods between deployment of units and members of the Armed Forces.”

The first part of the amendment — it’s main provision — states that troops can not be deployed unless they have been allowed at least as much downtime as the length of their previous deployment. It would set up a 1-to-1 rotation plan for the troops. Currently, most troops are spending 15 months in Iraq with 12 months at home. Webb, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam war, argues that “after four years of predictable operations, op tempo should be designed to protect the well-being of troops."

His amendment also establishes a minimum requirement of three years of time off between deployments for reserve troops.

Another part stipulates that a soldier may choose to voluntarily wave the down-time requirement if they want to go back into battle sooner.

Finally, it allows the President to waive the deployment limitations by certifying to Congress that “the deployment of the unit or member is necessary to meet an operational emergency posing a threat to vital national security interests of the United States.”

Even if Webb and the Democrtaic leadership is able to get 60 senators to vote for the amendment, President Bush would certainly veto it. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the administration’s case against the amendment:

>I think that it’s a well-intentioned idea. I think it’s really, pretty much, a back door effort to get the President to accelerate the drawdown, so that it’s an automatic kind of thing rather than based on the conditions in Iraq, with all the consequences that I talked about earlier. I think, if as I believe, the President would never approve such a bill. It would mean, if it were enacted, we would have force management problems that would be extremely difficult and in fact create, I think affect combat effectiveness, and perhaps pose greater risk to our troops.

It takes 67 votes to override a presidential veto, a prospect that looks highly unlikely any time soon. But Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), who has been doing a lot of the whipping for this amendment is hopeful. “We want to move and move forward, pick up the votes. This process is sometimes too slow, but it’s a process that I think is going in the right direction. We’re picking up support. And I think on this issue, we can pick up sufficient votes — 60, I hope 67.”

The full text of the Webb amendment can be seen by clicking on the first item in the upper right hand corner under “Submit a Tip.”

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