The Senate on Wednesday rejected legislation that would cut off money for combat operations in Iraq after March 31, 2008.
The vote was a loss for Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and other Democrats who want to end the war. But the effort picked up support from members, including presidential hopefuls previously reluctant to limit war funding &
an indication of the conflict's unpopularity among voters.
The proposal lost 29-67 on a procedural vote, falling 31 votes short of the necessary votes to advance.
The Senate also narrowly rejected a proposal by Republican moderates intended to restrict U.S. aid for Iraq, after Democratic leaders lashed out against the proposal as too weak. The 52-44 vote was widely supported by Republicans, but fell eight votes shy of the required 60.
The Senate agreed only on a nonbinding resolution expressing the need to pass a war spending bill by Memorial Day. That proposal passed by an 87-9 vote.
The other more controversial proposals had been expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to advance under Senate rules, but was intended to gauge the tolerance of members on anti-war legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid staged a series of war votes Wednesday to inform negotiations with the House on a war spending bill.
"We stand united.... in our belief that troops are enmeshed in an intractable civil war," said Reid, D-Nev.
Feingold's measure, co-sponsored by Reid and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., proved divisive for Democrats. On the final vote, 19 Democrats joined 47 Republicans and Connecticut Independent Joseph Lieberman in opposing the measure. Of the 29 supporting were 28 Democrats and Vermont Independent Bernard Sanders.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he opposes any measure that cuts off money for the war.
"We don't want to send the message to the troops" that Congress does not support them, said Levin, D-Mich. "We're going to support those troops."
But other Democrats said the move was necessary.
"I'm not crazy about the language in the Feingold amendment, but I am crazy about the idea that we have to keep the pressure on," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who also wants the Democratic presidential nomination.
The second measure, drafted by Sen. John Warner, would have threatened billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq if Baghdad failed to implement certain political and security reforms. But in a last-minute change to the proposal to gain White House acceptance, Warner added a provision allowing the president to waive the restriction.
It "is really very tepid, very weak," said Reid, who supports cutting off funding for combat next year. "A cup of tea that's been sitting on the counter for a few weeks. ... You wouldn't want to drink that tea. You wouldn't want to vote for this amendment."
Warner, R-Va., defended the measure as carefully negotiated and "a good-faith effort to do my very best."
Ultimately, his proposal won support of 44 GOP members, seven Democrats and Lieberman. Opposing the legislation were Sanders, 40 Democrats and three Republicans.
The votes came as the Democratic-controlled Congress struggles to clear legislation for Bush's signature by the end of next week to continue U.S. military operations through Sept. 30.
The House last week passed legislation funding the war on two separate, 60-day installments.
The Senate must take the next step by passing its own measure. Given the political forces at work, that legislation will be a placeholder, its only purpose to trigger three-way negotiations involving the House, Senate and Bush administration on a final compromise.
As a result, officials said Tuesday that Reid and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had discussed jointly advancing a bill so barebones that it would contain no funds and do little more than express congressional support for the troops.
Negotiations on the final compromise are expected to take days.
Wednesday's votes on Feingold and other proposals "will provide strong guidance to our conferees and help shape the conference negotiations we have ahead of us," said Reid.
Levin pulled from the floor his proposal to set an Oct. — date to begin troop withdrawals, but allow the president to waive that requirement. He had pitched the idea with the expectation that the president would accept it because of the waiver; but, Levin said Wednesday he had been advised by the White House that the president would veto the measure regardless.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democratic presidential front-runner, previously opposed setting a deadline on the war. But she said she agreed to back Feingold's measure "because we, as a united party, must work together with clarity of purpose and mission to begin bringing our troops home and end this war."
Sen. Barack Obama, another leading 2008 prospect, said he would prefer a plan that offers more flexibility but wanted "to send a strong statement to the Iraqi government, the president and my Republican colleagues that it's long past time to change course."
Senate rejects legislation to cut off funds for Iraq war