Chattanooga Times Free Press - Herman Wang
WASHINGTON — As Congress prepares to hear long-awaited testimony from the top American officials in Iraq this week, lawmakers say they sense a pullback from the partisan rancor that marked the last time Iraq war legislation came up.
“I (do) sense the possibility of us coming more fully together around the issue of Iraq,” said Sen. Bob Corker, RTenn. “I really do think there’s a good chance we’ll have a 60-vote proposal that’s approved.”
That would appear to bode well for a bill to make binding the Iraq Study Group recommendations, said Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., who co-authored the legislation with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
The bill includes benchmarks for an eventual troop withdrawal.
“There is more of an atmosphere of wanting to come together,” Sen. Salazar said. “It may be that the dynamic has changed over the last month.”
Iraq war legislation last came up just before lawmakers’ monthlong August recess.
Derided by Democratic Senate leadership in July as “toothless” because it included no firm deadlines for withdrawal, and lacking the support of key Republican leaders, the senators’ measure never came to the floor for a vote.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., eventually pulled all Iraq war legislation off the floor after an all-night debate failed to get the 60 votes required to block a Republican filibuster on a bill that would mandate troop withdrawal.
This time around, Sens. Alexander and Salazar say, their bill may have a fighting chance when Congress takes up war legislation again after this week’s scheduled testimony from Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.
“I’ve heard some encouraging words from the Democratic leadership about looking for consensus,” Sen. Alexander said. “My recommendation is, if they want consensus, they should have the (Iraq Study Group) recommendations, which include a new strategy that would change our mission and cause our government to speak with a single voice, which our troops deserve and our enemy needs to hear.”
A bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton drafted the recommendations, which were released in December.
The bill gained 15 co-sponsors in the Senate — eight Democrats and seven Republicans — and an identical House bill has 61 cosponsors — 26 Democrats and 35 Republicans, including Reps. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., and Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.
The bill provides the best opportunity to unite Americans behind a strategy for Iraq, Rep. Wamp said. Last week, he urged his colleagues not to pull out of Iraq immediately or risk allowing al-Qaida or other terrorist groups to entrench there.
“Our philosophy on this is that we need a place to go after General Petraeus comes and gives his report,” Rep. Wamp said. “It is foolish to think that we can still be slugging it out in Iraq 10 years from now. It is also foolish to think that pulling out will make the problem go away.”
The bill may face competition in the Senate from another proposal drafted by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., that would begin the withdrawal of most troops from Iraq in 120 days. In July, that measure fell eight votes short of overcoming a Republican-led filibuster.
Sen. Salazar said backers of the Iraq Study Group bill still are considering some changes to the bill’s language to get more support. Those may include dates for starting troop withdrawal, a provision Sen. Alexander opposes.
“The strong sense I have is that leadership would like us to have a bipartisan measure that would change the course of action in Iraq,” Sen. Salazar said.