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Republicans counting on two Democratic senators' votes against Iraq war timeline
Michael Roston
Published: Monday March 26, 2007
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The top Republican in the US Senate told RAW STORY today that he is counting on two Democratic senators to vote against a supplemental war funding bill that establishes a timeline to end the Iraq war. But, in response, an aide from the office of one of the two senators said that he had yet to make any decisions.

Senator Mitch McConnell's office said that the ballot on the emergency spending legislation will be a reprise of the vote on a recent measure calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Republicans succeeded in foiling the legislation by a 50-48 vote.

"We had essentially the same vote just a few weeks ago," said Jon Henke, a spokesman for the Senate's minority leader, in an e-mail this morning to RAW STORY. "And Senators Pryor, Ben Nelson and Lieberman joined us in that vote."

After passing the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act by a razor-thin margin on Friday, Senator McConnell's prognostication suggested the challenge Democratic Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid will face in marshaling the 51 votes needed to send the war budget to the President's desk (a filibuster of the spending measure is not expected). Meanwhile, the House bill's timeline to end US troop deployments in Iraq by August 2008 has prompted veto threats from the White House.

Democratic Senate leaders have been working to bring these two Democratic senators, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, on board. Reports last week from the Associated Press, suggested that Democrats "have made changes in hopes of persuading Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas to support the withdrawal proposal."

Senator Ben Nelson's (D-NE) office told RAW STORY that his vote was not so simple because the final bill was not yet before the senators.

"We don't know what is going to be offered yet," said David DiMartino, a spokesman for Senator Nelson. "[Senator Nelson] was instrumental in including benchmarks and reporting requirements at the Senate committee level, and he won't support anything that threatens the survival of benchmarks that he worked so hard to insert in the bill."

Sen. Nelson last week released a statement that explained his support for establishing benchmarks for Iraq's government to take responsibility for their government's security, which were included in the "U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007," a bill taken up in the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.

"The benchmarks included in the supplemental successfully transfer accountability for Iraq's success to the Iraqis and requires regular reports to Congress on their progress," Nelson said. "That information can be used by Congress to make future decisions about U.S. military presence in Iraq."

However, the Senate bill does not contain the specific timeline found in the measure sent to the Senate by the House of Representatives. Senator Harry Reid endorsed the House's approach in a statement last Friday.

"Implementing the binding policies set forth in this bill will make America more secure," he said. "The Democrats and Republicans who voted for this bill understand that the Iraq war can be won only politically, not militarily."

Additionally, the Senate Democrats' website today noted, "At 3:00 p.m., the Senate will begin consideration of H.R. 1591, the Emergency Supplemental bill."

DiMartino made it clear that the Nebraska Democrat did not favor the approach advanced by House Democrats.

"Sen. Nelson does not support a calendar timeframe for withdrawal," he said. "Whatever happens in conference, he will have to reassess what comes back."

RAW STORY sent an e-mail and left multiple telephone messages at the office of Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) which were not answered.

However, Senate Democrats may still pick up some support from their Republican colleagues. One Republican Senator, Gordon Smith of Oregon, voted for the withdrawal resolution that Nelson and Pryor rejected.

And this weekend, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who may run for president in 2008, slammed President Bush for threatening to veto the Democrats' proposed war budget.

"No president can dictate to this country," Hagel said to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week.

But Senator McConnell said that many Senate Republicans shared the President's perspective on the bill.

"We want Democrats (and Republicans) to vote for an amendment that strips the withdrawal/surrender language, but we want the underlying supplemental funding bill to pass," Henke explained.