Thursday, May 17, 2007

What Did Yesterday's Senate Action Mean?

The media is having trouble deciding on the significance of yesterday's Senate votes on Iraq war funding.

Here's a sample of the "symbolic defeat for the administration" slant.

The Senate yesterday edged closer to a bipartisan rebuke of President Bush's war policy, as 52 members backed benchmarks for progress in Iraq and a majority of Democrats supported a hard timeline for ending the war.

Both Iraq options fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass officially, while giving Democrats and Republicans alike room to claim victory as new conference talks begin this week on the war-funding supplemental. The votes also offer new ammunition for 2008, as all four Democratic presidential hopefuls in the upper chamber backed Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-Wis.) plan to withdraw most troops from Iraq within a year and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) added to his string of missed Iraq votes.

The four Democratic leaders also voted for the Feingold amendment to the water-resources bill, a test roll call that showed the majority’s growing openness to using the power of the purse to force Bush's hand on Iraq. Notably for Democrats, each of the four Republican leaders supported Sen. John Warner’s (R-Va.) plan to condition future aid to the Iraqi government on several benchmarks for political stability.

"It's clear from the Warner amendment that Republicans are beginning to realize our path in Iraq is unsustainable," a heartened Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) echoed the message his party saw in the Warner vote: "They want change," he said of Republicans. Only three GOP senators, Jon Kyl (Ariz.), David Vitter (La.) and James Inhofe (Okla.), voted against the Warner language.

Interestingly though, today's New York Times views the Senate votes as a weakening of the Democratic resolve to take on the president over Iraq.

Congressional Democratic leaders signaled today that they were ready to give ground to end an impasse with President Bush over war spending after the Senate soundly rejected a Democratic plan to block money for major combat operations in Iraq beginning next spring.

The 67-to-29 vote against the proposal demonstrated that a significant majority of senators remained unwilling to demand a withdrawal of forces despite their own misgivings and public unease over the war. ...

The margin also illustrated the divide among Democrats over how far to go in challenging Mr. Bush over the war. All four Democratic senators seeking the presidential nomination, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, were among the 29 who backed the proposal. Among those opposed were Democratic leaders on military policy like Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a former Army officer.

After the vote, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader and a co-sponsor of the Feingold plan, said he was committed to delivering legislation acceptable to Mr. Bush by the end of next week. He conceded that the compromise was likely to disappoint war opponents who had pushed Congress to set a pull-out date.

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