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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Dems stuck in a ‘slow-boil’ strategy

Six months after capturing Congress and claiming a mandate to end the Iraq war, Democrats are still reluctantly stuck with a slow boil strategy, blocked by a defiant President George W. Bush.

Six months after capturing Congress and claiming a mandate to end the Iraq war, Democrats are still reluctantly stuck with a slow boil strategy, blocked by a defiant President George W. Bush.

Despite launching a blizzard of probes into the administration's conduct and rationales for the war and giving the White House a bumpy ride over Iraq, the Democratic anti-war drive is yet to get one soldier home.

After the latest round of acrimony between Congress and the White House, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid on Thursday reminded Americans were sticking to their guns.

"The American people deserve to know the Democrats' commitment to bringing this war to a responsible end has never been stronger," Reid said.

"If enough of our Republican colleagues decide to join with us, even the president of the United States will have to listen."

Despite signs of increasing Republican disquiet over the political price the party may have to pay at 2008 congressional elections over the unpopular war, Bush's backing is yet to fracture.

Not one Republican senator joined a Democratic bid on Wednesday to use Congress's power of the purse to compel Bush to complete the withdrawal of most combat troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008.

Though 29 Democrats, including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, did sign up, a further 18, mostly from conservative western and southern states, did not make the leap.

"Only 29 members of the Senate voted for establishing a date for defeat," said Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

So the Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate seem to have little choice but to yield ground when they sit down with White House aides and top Republicans to agree an emergency war budget.

The president vetoed their previous 124 billion-dollar effort earlier this month, over the insertion of Democratic timelines for troop withdrawals.

The White House is resisting the idea of troop cuts triggered by any failure of the Iraqi government to meet political and economic benchmarks for progress.

Democratic leaders, however, say they are slowly advancing.

They point out that when a vote on withdrawing troops from Iraq by this July was held last June, only 13 senators voted in favor.

Democrats hope eventually to solidify their own caucus and woo moderate Republicans to piece together a veto-proof majority of 67 votes, which could force Bush's hand.

Under fierce pressure from the anti-war left of the Democratic Party, and the expectations raised by their capture of Congress, leaders know they have little choice but to keep bringing up symbolic legislation.

The Senate formally voted Thursday to convene talks with the House of Representatives next week on a new emergency war budget.

The House last week passed its own measure, which Bush has vowed to veto because it gives him only 43 billion dollars in immediate financing, and forces him to return to ask for 53 billion dollars more in July.

With Reid guaranteeing that the Senate-House conference will produce a budget the president can sign, it looks set to go down as another unsuccessful device to force Bush's hand.

Reid said he would sit down Friday with Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives and White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten to get negotiations under way.

Bush urged the Democrats to get him a bill to sign.

"It's time to put forth a spending bill that doesn't have artificial timetables for withdrawal, doesn't micromanage the military and is wise about how we spend the people's money," he said.

Attention is now shifting to September, when General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, is expected to report on the progress of Bush's strategy to surge nearly 30,000 extra troops into the country.

Senior Republicans have already spoken publicly about a need for a change of strategy if things are not going well.

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