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Senate Democrats are backing a pullout of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of March 2008 – a deadline similar to that recommended recently by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, according to Democratic insiders.
The March 31, 2008, deadline is included in a new authorization resolution for the U.S. military campaign in Iraq, where President Bush plans to send another 21,500 U.S. troops to help quell the violence there.
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The resolution is being drafted by Democratic Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees. The pair is working closely with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in crafting their proposal, which they plan to unveil early next week.
The new resolution would restrict U.S. military efforts in Iraq to training and logistical support for the Iraqi army, counterterrorism operations and securing the Iraqi borders, especially with Iran and Syria, said the Democratic insiders, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity as the drafting proceeds.
Senate Democratic leaders have not decided when to formally introduce the new measure, which, if enacted, would restrict the president's authority to conduct military operations inside Iraq.
There has been consideration about offering it as an amendment to legislation coming to the Senate floor next week to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission – legislation that has already passed the House.
But Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, prefers that Democrats, who have united in opposition to the president’s plan to “surge’’ more U.S. troops into Iraq, wait several weeks until the $93 billion supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan reaches the Senate floor.
Some provisions of the 9/11 bill cover nonproliferation programs and diplomatic initiatives that Biden wants approved by the Senate. So, he favors waiting until the wartime supplemental measure is taken up to formally offer the new war-authorization resolution, the Democratic insiders said.
One key consideration for Democrats is how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and top Republicans react to the new authorization, and what amendments they might offer to the 9/11 bill.
If Republicans offer a measure drafted by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., stating that Congress will not cut funding for U.S. forces already deployed to Iraq, Democrats will offer their authorization resolution to the 9/11 legislation. If not, they plan to wait for the supplemental to come to the Senate floor.
"It's really up to what the Republicans do," said a senior Democratic staffer involved in drafting the new resolution.
The Biden-Levin resolution would supersede the use-of-force resolution for Iraq passed by Congress in October 2002. And it would require Bush to seek new authorization from Congress to send more combat troops to Iraq, or make any other dramatic changes in the nature of the U.S. military mission there.
Congressional adoption of a new authorization for war during an ongoing military campaign is unprecedented in American history, according legal experts. And the president and his Republican allies in Congress are sure to oppose it strongly, both on constitutional grounds and politically.
"It will be viewed as a direct challenge to the president," acknowledged a senior Senate Democratic aide. "They are going to fight it tooth-and-nail."
House Democrats, led by Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., are considering inserting their own provisions in the Iraq supplemental bill to essentially deny Bush the use of more troops for Iraq. But Republicans have repeatedly launched political attacks against the Murtha plan during the last two weeks, and Democratic leaders in the Senate do not now favor the proposal, according to aides.
Both Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are under pressure from anti-war lawmakers and outside groups to do more to end U.S. involvement in the Iraq. But neither wants to take any step that risks exposing their party – and in Reid's case, several Democratic presidential candidates – to a political barrage from Republicans.
Unilaterally cutting off funding for the U.S. forces in Iraq as a means to end the war is not now considered politically viable. So, Reid and Pelosi have searched for interim steps. And a new authorization resolution for the Iraq campaign, such as that being drafted by Biden and Levin, is considered another intermediate action that will allow Democrats to continue moving toward ending the war while limiting the political fallout.
"We are going to be very measured in how we approach this," said one top Democratic strategist. "We will do nothing to endanger our troops in the field, but we will continue turning up the heat on Bush to end the war. We will go step-by-step, day-by-day, until we get there."> Share on Facebook > Share on Twitter