Senate blocks bill that would have paid for war, ordered troops home
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) ” The Senate on Friday blocked a Democratic proposal that would have paid for the Iraq war but required that troops start coming home.
The 53-45 vote was seven votes short of the 60 needed to advance. It came minutes after the Senate rejected a Republican proposal to pay for the Iraq war with no strings attached.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the only way to get troops the money was to approve the restrictions outlined by Democrats.
“Our troops continue to fight and die valiantly. And our Treasury continues to be depleted rapidly, for a peace that we seem far more interested in achieving than Iraq’s own political leaders,” Reid said.
Republicans said Democrats were being irresponsible.
“We need to get our troops everything they need,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “We need to get it to them right now.”
Four Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure: Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Susan Collins of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., was the lone Democrat opposing it because he said it did not go far enough to end the war.
The Republican proposal to pay for the Iraq war with no strings attached failed by a vote of 45-53, which was 15 short of the number needed to go forward.
Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said this week that if Congress cannot pass legislation that ties war money to troop withdrawals, they would not send President Bush a bill this year.
Instead, they would revisit the issue upon returning in January, pushing the Pentagon to the brink of an accounting nightmare and deepening Democrats’ conflict with the White House on the war.
In the meantime, Democrats say, the Pentagon can use some of its $471 billion annual budget without being forced to take drastic steps.
“The days of a free lunch are over,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
At the White House on Friday, deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said: “DOD would have to eat into their annual budget and I believe that still presents difficulties in getting the troops in the field the resources they need to carry out their mission.”
“We’d rather see the Department of Defense, the military planners and our troops focusing on military maneuvers rather than accounting maneuvers as they carry out their mission in the field,” Fratto said. “I think Congress should send this money, allow these troops to get the equipment they need. There is no reason why they should not get the money. This isn’t like this is a last-minute effort and call for funding.”
He said the president sent his budget to Congress back in February last year. Along with that was the supplemental request for more than $145 billion for the global war on terror. The request last month was an augmentation to that request, but they’ve known that funding is needed, Fratto said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that unless Congress passes funding for the war within days, he will direct the Army and Marine Corps to begin developing plans to lay off employees and terminate contracts early next year.
Gates, who met with lawmakers on Wednesday, said he does not have the money or the flexibility to move funds around to adequately cover the costs of the continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There is a misperception that this department can continue funding our troops in the field for an indefinite period of time through accounting maneuvers, that we can shuffle money around the department. This is a serious misconception,” Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.
As a result, he said, he is faced with the undesirable task of preparing to cease operations at Army bases by mid-February, and lay off about 100,000 defense department employees and an equal number of civilian contractors. A month later, he said, similar moves would have to be made by the Marines.
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