Is a bipartisan war policy possible?
More lawmakers urge Congress to forcefully steer US actions in Iraq. But a united front is hard to achieve in a campaign season.
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"We need to put a little more elbow room into it to get 60 votes," says Sen. Gordon Smith (R) of Oregon, who was one of four Republicans to back the Levin-Reed amendment last July.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead of setting a fixed endpoint for US deployment in Iraq, he proposes setting a goal. "We need to make sure there is sufficient stability that Iraq doesn't become a failed state or a client state for Iran and also to make sure it does not lead to a regional war," Senator Smith adds.
On the House side, Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D) of Hawaii, John Tanner (D) of Tennessee, and Phil English (R) of Pennsylvania are pushing to get a vote on their measure to require the president to report to Congress on redeployment planning within 60 days – and every 90 days thereafter. The move, sponsors say, gives Congress a voice in war strategy and is the only prospect for a strong, bipartisan vote. The measured passed out of the House Armed Services committee on a 55-to-2 vote.
So far, House Democratic leaders have not been willing to put the measure to a floor vote, because it would showcase rifts in party ranks. The move is strongly opposed by the party's Out-of-Iraq caucus, because it does not include a fixed timetable for withdrawal.
"It's a big step toward putting Congress back in the oversight role," says Representative Abercrombie. "The alternative is to continue passing bills that have troop withdrawal deadlines in them that will pass in the House, but not the Senate."
This week's hearings on war strategy could give a big boost to bipartisan efforts, says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. "The tone of this week's hearings is a shift from what we've seen before. I saw Republicans and Democrats really searching for answers – feeling their way toward some kind of a center and some kind of legislation that will give voters and Americans a rough schedule of what's going to happen," he says. "It's the endless nature of this war that's politically not good for Republicans."
Republicans facing tough reelection bids in 2008 were especially vocal in hearings this week.
"I have a lot of respect for General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, but I continue to believe we should not delay to change the mission of our troops to lay the groundwork for a more significant drawdown," said Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has been targeted by national antiwar groups for her support of the war.
Other Republican lawmakers say they are troubled by the strain put on US forces by extended deployments. The Senate is within two votes of passing a measure to require minimum rest periods at home for US military units before redeployment to Iraq, says majority leader Harry Reid.
That idea, contained in a bill that passed the House on Aug. 2, would curb the president's ability to sustain current force levels in Iraq. Bush has threatened to veto it. In the Senate, Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia proposed a similar measure, but it failed to overcome a filibuster.