Senate soundly rejects Iraq troop pullout, funding cutoff

Majority leader indicates he is not interested in any compromise that fails to mandate significant changes in the war.

Senate Democrats lost a long-shot bid Thursday to end the Iraq war, when the first of two amendments to the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill setting deadlines for troop withdrawal fell far short of the 60 votes necessary for passage.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., received support from only 28 senators -- one fewer vote than a similar measure attracted in May.

The language, which appealed to the Senate's most avid anti-war Democrats, would have required the Bush administration to withdraw all but a small number of U.S. troops from Iraq by June 30.

The Feingold language also would have cut off most funding for the war after June -- a sticking point for many Democrats who fear that doing so would translate as a lack of support for the deployed troops.

Feingold countered critics by arguing that his amendment would not deprive deployed troops of needed equipment or other supplies, but rather would spark a responsible and safe withdrawal from Iraq.

"We need to invoke the power and the responsibility bestowed upon us by the Constitution and bring this to a close," he added. "This war doesn't make sense and it's hurting our country, our military and our credibility."

But the amendment's defeat was all but certain by Wednesday night, after a far less stringent measure offered by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., received only 56 votes -- the same number of supporters a nearly identical measure attracted when the Senate first took up the defense bill in July. That amendment would have mandated specific amounts of time at home for active-duty and reserve forces.

Despite the poor prospects for any Iraq amendment mandating a troop withdrawal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated Thursday that he is not interested in pursuing compromise legislation that does not mandate significant changes in the war.

Reid did not say whether a timeline must be a prerequisite for compromise language on Iraq, but he did indicate that any legislation would have to create a new direction for the war for him to support it.

"Compromise does not mean giving up our principle," Reid said. "Our principle is we need to change course in Iraq . . . We're not changing our strategy."

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who has been working to gather support for a bipartisan amendment that would change the mission in Iraq without setting a withdrawal deadline, said he has been in discussions with Reid and believes that compromise legislation is still a possibility -- either on the defense authorization measure or at a later date.

"We've had conversations," Nelson said, "and [Reid]'s already said publicly that this approach has some appeal."