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The votes aren't there.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The November 2006 election sent an unambiguous signal to Congress and the White House that Americans want a significant change in the conduct of the Iraq war. Precisely what shape that change should take is at the heart of the showdown between the Democratic majority in Congress and supporters of President Bush's last-ditch effort to salvage the debacle he created in Iraq.

Despite legitimate doubts about Bush's leadership and a few high-profile Republican defections, the lame duck president has been able to hang on to enough Republican and conservative Democratic support to sustain vetoes of Democratic efforts to attach troop withdrawal timetables to war funding bills. That's why the Democratic leadership is surrendering its efforts to insert what Republican critics cleverly have labeled "surrender dates" into Iraq war appropriations.

But the Democratic retrenchment was a foregone conclusion before a single vote was cast. The November election produced insufficient Democratic seats in the House and Senate to muster the two-thirds majorities needed to override Bush vetoes if the Republicans held ranks. The slim Senate majority can't even limit debate or overcome procedural hurdles; both require at least 60 votes.

Nonetheless, Bush and his Republican supporters clearly have won Round 1. No amount of spin from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can make the bill that is likely to emerge today anything but a capitulation.

The political objective for Democrats became how to limit the perception among voters that Democratic insistence on troop withdrawal in the face of Bush's insurmountable veto constituted willful neglect of the military's battlefield needs.

It wasn't an idle worry. In a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, 60 percent of respondents opposed any effort to cut off funds for U.S. troops in Iraq and set a March 2008 withdrawal date. Moreover, 52 percent said they believed Democrats should compromise with Bush on the funding bill, and 44 percent blamed Democrats for holding up funds for the troops.

Asked to pick one legislative option from among three choices, only 24 percent said they would cut off war funds and set a March 2008 withdrawal; 33 percent said they would fund the war with a specific date to begin troop withdrawal; and 40 percent said they would make funding contingent upon the Iraqi government meeting specific benchmarks.

Like their Democratic representatives in Congress, the public is not certain about the best way to proceed in Iraq. But they are not ambivalent about the core issue: Six in 10 Americans want Bush to set a specific timetable for troops to be withdrawn, regardless of how secure Iraq is when the withdrawal date arrives. Three out of four Americans believe Bush should set specific benchmarks for the Iraqi government and that future U.S. military aid should be contingent upon those benchmarks being met.

The congressional debate over the Iraq war is just getting started, albeit four years and thousands of lives too late. Every defense appropriations bill from this point forward will engage the issue of when, not if, troops should pull out of Iraq.

Voters might make Republicans pay a heavy price in the next election for their obstruction of efforts to end the Iraq war. Make no mistake - Bush intends to run out the clock on his bloody legacy and dump it on his successor.

Without support from Republicans, the Democrats will be hard pressed to stop him.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Democrats surrender on the Iraq war funding bill
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 24, 2007
Previous Article:Irreconcilable differences.
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