Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Senate Iraq timeline survives

Senate Republicans failed to kill a timeline for ending combat operations in Iraq during debate on a war funding bill today. That means it will be included in the final bill, which is expected to pass either tomorrow or Thursday.

After that it will be reconciled with the House version, then sent to the White House for an appointment with Bush's veto pen.

Two interesting tidbits:

1. Three Senators switched their votes to support the bill: Democrat Ben Nelson and Republicans Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith.

2. The Senate also attached its minimum-wage package (and accompanying small-business tax breaks) to the bill -- an odd decision, considering the likelihood of a veto.

So how do the bills stack up? While there are warts -- the $20 billion in pork, for starters, of which the Democrats should be ashamed -- I think this is more than a mere waste of time.

As I noted last week, once Bush vetoes it the real politicking begins. But even if the Dems cave in and give Bush the "clean" funding bill he wants, this wasn't a waste of time.

Whatever else it does, the bill expresses the opinion of Congress (and, incidentally, the voters, if polls are to be believed) in very forceful terms -- especially because much of the opposition to the bill came from Democrats who didn't think it went far enough.

That may not matter to Bush. But you can be certain the message will be received in other places -- like, say, Baghdad. The Iraqi government now knows that support past the 2008 elections is highly uncertain unless it gets its act together. So whether the deadline is March 2008 or September 2008 or January 2009, it's very real and very serious.

The real test of our Iraq policy remains the surge. If it works and is sustainable, we stay. If it doesn't, we leave.

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