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Democrats Won't Temper Iraq Legislation

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ANNE FLAHERTY | September 18, 2007 11:03 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — After weeks of suggesting Democrats would temper their approach to Iraq legislation in a bid to attract more Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared abruptly Tuesday that he had no plans to do so.

The Democratic leader said he will call for a vote this month on several anti-war proposals, including one by Sen. Carl Levin that would insist President Bush end U.S. combat next summer. The proposals would be mandatory and not leave Bush wiggle room, said Reid, D-Nev.

"There (are) no goals. It's all definite timelines," he told reporters of the planned legislation.

Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Monday night he would have agreed to turn his summer deadline into a nonbinding goal if doing so meant attracting enough votes to pass. Several Republicans have said they are uneasy about Bush's war strategy but do not like the idea of setting a firm timetable on troop withdrawals.

Reid's hardline stance, announced after the party's weekly policy lunch on Tuesday, reflects a calculation by Democrats that Levin's proposal probably would have failed either way. Democrats hold a thin majority in the Senate and similar legislation has repeatedly fallen short of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.

When asked why Democrats won't soften the deadline, the majority leader said he doesn't have confidence Republicans are willing to challenge Bush on the war.

"I think they've decided definitely they want this to be the Senate Republicans' war, not just Bush's. They're jealous," he said with a smile.

Democrats are in a box on the Iraq war debate, lacking the votes to pass legislation ordering troops home but tied to a support base that wants nothing less. Several Democrats, including Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Barbara Boxer of California, have said they will not vote for anything short of a firm deadline to end the war.

These members say they are responding to polls that show Americans still oppose the war, despite Gen. David Petraeus' report to Congress and President Bush's nationally televised address.

A poll released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 54 percent of Americans still favor bringing troops home as soon as possible. And despite slight improvements in peoples' views of military progress, more said the U.S. will likely fail in Iraq than succeed by 47 percent to 42 percent, about the same margin as in July.

Other lawmakers, including Levin and several moderate Republicans, have tried to strike bipartisan deals they think would attract enough moderates of either party to pass.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, suggested Tuesday that Congress pass legislation that would restrict the mission of U.S. troops but allow Bush to determine the timeframe for doing so.

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., has attracted the support of several GOP lawmakers with legislation that would call on Bush to embrace the recommendations of the independent Iraq Study Group. The independent panel called on Bush to hand off the combat mission to the Iraqis next year.

But while Democratic leaders say the concept of compromise legislation is not off the table, no proposals have gained steam. Reid on Tuesday said Salazar is working to add requirements to his bill, but as written it was too weak.

Most Republicans say they are willing to give Petraeus' strategy more time to work.

"We either allow this strategy to succeed ... or we don't," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and a GOP presidential hopeful. "And that's why you see compromise after compromise failing to get a significant amount of support, because we are faced with basically two stark choices, and it's very difficult to split the baby."

Levin's legislation would require that the U.S. begin withdrawing some troops from Iraq within 90 days, which Bush has already said he plans to do. It also would require that the U.S. hand off the combat mission to the Iraqis within nine months and restrict U.S. troops to such tasks as fighting terrorists and training the Iraqi security force.

Reid said the bill will be considered as an amendment to a defense policy bill on the floor, along with a proposal by Feingold that would cut off money for combat operations next year and one by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., limiting combat tours.

McCain blasted Webb's amendment as "unconstitutional."

"The Congress of the United States has the right to declare war and to fund armies and navies. It says nothing about setting tours of duties," he said.