Senate Moves Toward Ending the War

by Paul Hogarth on March 28, 2007

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted 50-48 to defeat a Republican amendment that would have removed a withdrawal date from the Iraq budget supplemental. On March 23, the House passed a budget that creates an actual deadline to get out of Iraq – using Congress’ power to fund the War as a means of bringing our troops home. Now the Senate must act.

Democrats have a much smaller majority in the Senate than in the House, so the chances of passing a bill that calls for withdrawal was highly unlikely. Yesterday’s Senate vote shows that more Democrats – and even a few Republicans – are waking up to reality, and understand that we need to end a War that should have never been waged at all. It also creates a problem for Blue State Republicans who are up for re-election in 2008, but refuse to challenge the President.

Make no mistake about it. The Senate did not pass a similar bill that the House did last week. Getting George Bush to sign or veto a bill that would end the War (and we know that he will veto it if that happens) is still a distant hope – and not a reality.

But yesterday’s vote is significant because the Senate defeated an amendment that would have killed the Iraq War budget of all significance. The 48 Senators who supported the failed amendment effectively voted to continue funding the War with no end in sight. Thankfully, they were outnumbered by 50 Senators who don’t see it that way.

Why is this progress? Because two weeks ago, the Senate defeated a resolution that would have called for a total troop withdrawal by March 2008. At the time, three Democrats voted against withdrawal – and only one Republican supported it. Yesterday, two Republicans voted to bring our troops home – with only two Democrats opposed.

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska is a very conservative Democrat, who had always supported the War in Iraq and opposed withdrawing our troops. Yesterday, he joined the party leadership in opposing the Republican amendment – leaving only David Pryor of Arkansas and (you guessed it!) Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voting in favor.

Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is a very conservative Republican – but has always been critical of the way that Bush has carried out the War. Yesterday, he joined the Democrats in opposing War without end. Hagel’s stance puts John McCain’s reputation as a “maverick” to shame – as the Arizona Senator cancelled a series of fundraisers for his presidential campaign to fly back to Washington and support the amendment.

Unlike the House version, the withdrawal date in the Senate budget is merely advisory – and does not tie the funding of the War to a mandate that our troops come home. So the fact that Joe Lieberman, David Pryor and 46 Republicans would even vote to remove a “non-binding” deadline shows how extreme and deluded they are about a War that has killed over 3,000 American soldiers – and many, many more Iraqis.

The vote creates a problem for Senate Republicans who supported the amendment and are up for re-election in 2008. Three of these Senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John Sununu of New Hampshire – represent states that voted for John Kerry, and whose constituents strongly support withdrawal. Other Republican Senators may be vulnerable – but Collins, Coleman and Sununu are now in deep trouble.

In Maine, Susan Collins has a strong Democratic challenger – Congressman Tom Allen of Portland. For 12 years, Collins has gotten away with being a “moderate” Republican – but the truth is that she only votes against her party leadership when it won’t affect the outcome. She could have shown her centrist credentials by opposing the amendment, but instead wants to fund the War without any deadline at all.

In Minnesota, Norm Coleman already has one famous challenger – Al Franken – and other Democrats are interested in running as well. Coleman’s predecessor was Paul Wellstone – whose last vote before dying in a plane crash was against the 2002 Iraq War Resolution. There is no Republican who I want to see lose more in 2008 than Norm Coleman, and based on how many people still mourn Wellstone’s death – I am not alone.

While it’s still uncertain which Democrat will challenge John Sununu, New Hampshire is rapidly becoming a deep blue state. In 2006, both House Republicans were booted out of office because of the Iraq War – and Democratic Governor John Lynch was re-elected by a whopping 74%. Sununu is so scared these days that he literally ran away from reporters when they started asking him about the War.

The Senate will vote on the whole budget package soon – with a withdrawal deadline. Expect the Republican leadership to filibuster the vote, and it will be extremely difficult for Democrats to count up to 60 and force the Senate to pass withdrawal. Unless, of course, enough Republicans realize that George Bush is a lame duck – and they don’t want his arrogance to hurt their re-election chances.

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