Here’s an interesting development. Jeff Zeleny writes for the New York Times:
As the Senate opened debate Monday on a $122 billion Iraq spending bill, Republicans vowed not to allow Congress to impose a withdrawal date for American troops, but said they would rely on President Bushâ€™s veto pen rather than procedural maneuvers to block it.
Mr. Bush has vowed to veto any legislation that establishes a specific timetable to remove combat troops from Iraq. The Democratic-led House has passed such a plan, and Senate Democratic leaders are seeking to advance a similar measure this week, but the party does not have enough votes in either chamber to override a veto.
For weeks, Republican leaders have used procedural maneuvers to delay a debate over Iraq. But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said he did not want to hold up financing for the war by spending more time than necessary on a measure that will never become law.
Republicans signaled that they would not use procedural measures to block the bill, but would instead let the White House kill it and then urge Democrats to pass a bill that provides funding for the war without setting any dates for troop withdrawals.
â€œWe need to get the bill on down to the president and get the veto out of the way,â€ Senator McConnell said.
This might be the beginning of a Republican congressional retreat away from Bush. E.J. Dionne writes about last week’s House vote on the supplement bill and quotes Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.):
Now, Van Hollen argues, Bush’s “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to the bill is also “hurting the political standing of his Republican colleagues” in Congress by forcing them to back an open-ended commitment in Iraq at a time when their constituents are demanding a different approach.
Of the upcoming Senate vote, Dionne writes,
With most counts showing Senate Democrats needing only one more vote to approve the call for troop withdrawals next year, antiwar pressures are growing on Sens. John Sununu (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). All face reelection next year, as does Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who is already seen as leaning toward the withdrawal plan.
What we might expect:
Bush’s threat to veto the House bill might be seen as either safe or empty, because the final compromise that emerges from the House and Senate will be different from the measure passed by Pelosi’s majority. But the president’s uncompromising language and his effective imposition of an April 15 deadline for the funding bill — after that date, he said, “our men and women in uniform will face significant disruptions” — may solidify Democratic ranks without rallying new Republican support.
If the compromise bill sent to Bush’s desk retains some conditions or timetables for withdrawal, even feeble ones, it will be a triumph for the Dems. If Bush then vetoes the bill, he will be further isolated even from his own party and politically weakened. It could get interesting.
Republicans are whining about pork in both the House and Senate bills. I don’t like pork, either, but I understand there hasn’t been an appropriations bill passed in living memory that didn’t have some sweeteners in it. The Republicans are desperate, in other words.
Be sure to read what else Dionne says about the House vote:
Last week’s narrow House vote imposing an August 2008 deadline for the withdrawal of American troops was hugely significant, even if the bill stands no chance of passing in the Senate this week in its current form. The vote was a test of the resolve of the new House Democratic leadership and its ability to pull together an ideologically diverse membership behind a plan pointing the United States out of Iraq.
To understand the importance of the vote, one need only consider what would have been said had it gone the other way: A defeat would have signaled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s powerlessness to create a governing majority from a fragmented Democratic membership. In a do-or-die vote, Pelosi lived to fight another day by creating a consensus in favor of withdrawal that included some of her party’s most liberal and most conservative members.