A verbal break from the administration's Iraq policy wasn't enough.
Eager to make good on Iraq-themed campaign promises that won them control of Congress, Senate Democrats are using amendments tied to the passage of the annual defense bill to test the rhetoric of Republican dissidence with a simple yay or nay.
The debate surrounding passage of the $650 billion defense authorization act allows Democrats. who are eager to establish a timeline for Iraq withdrawal, the opportunity to attach amendments to the bill that force Republicans to define how far they'll go in their opposition of the president.
One such amendment, a bipartisan proposal that guaranteed troops equal time posted in the United States as they spent deployed in war zones, was speculated to have the best chance of passage. It was defeated Wednesday in a 56-41 vote.
Amendment co-sponsors Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., argued their amendment would effectively end the surge because the military would run out of deployable troops and the administration would be forced to transition the U.S. military role in Iraq.
With the equal-time amendment defeated, Hagel and Webb will introduce a second readiness amendment to limits lengths of deployments while establishing minimum time requirements between deployments and requiring the president to report to Congress on the comprehensive strategy involving Iraq.
For Democrats attempting to nail Republican dissonance to the walls of Congress, four key amendments remain.
Later this week, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., will introduce an amendment calling for withdrawal of most U.S. troops by April 30, 2008.
The Levin-Reed amendment maintains an unspecified number of U.S. forces in Iraq for "limited missions" after the April 30 withdrawal date for force protection, the training of Iraqi security forces and specific counterterrorism operations.
Questioned Wednesday during a news conference on the number of troops that would remain, Levin shot back that the goal of the amendment wasn't to get "mired down into a specific debate as to how many troops would remain."
"We want the focus in this legislation to be on changing the course and forcing the Iraqi leaders to step up to the plate and accepting responsibility for their own country, working out the political agreements that have to be worked out if there's going to be any possibility of success in Iraq," he said.
Another proposal, Sen. Russ Feingold's more aggressive timetable for withdrawal, calls for March 31, 2008 as a firm deadline to end U.S. involvement in Iraq. The Feingold amendment, which earned the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, would also cut off most war funding by the March 31 deadline.
Neither of the amendments, which set hard deadlines for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, are expected to pass in the Senate, though the Levin-Reed measure has picked up GOP senatorial support by way of Oregon's Gordon Smith, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel and Washington's Olympia Snowe.
Along with longtime war critic Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is co-sponsoring an amendment that would sunset the war authorization enacted by Congress in October 2002 on its five-year anniversary, Oct. 11, 2007.