The amendment as voted upon is titled "Sense of Congress on Federalism in Iraq." It notes that the Iraqi constitution "declares that the "federal system in the Republic of Iraq is made up of a decentralized capital, regions, and governorates and local administrations," and emphasizes the "largely stable and peaceful" Kurdistan region.
The bill declares that "It is the sense of Congress that -- (1) the United States should actively support a political settlement in Iraq asked on the final provisions of the Constitution of Iraq that create a federal system of government and allow for the creation of federal regions.
The amendment calls for the international community -- those with troops in Iraq, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iraq's neighbors and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- "to support an Iraqi political settlement based on federalism."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that "there is absolutely no objection on the part of this administration that the Iraqis should have a federalist system."
That may be true, but Tuesday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposing an earlier version of the Biden amendment by taking issue with three ideas that made their way to final passage.
Rice said that "the creation of additional federal regions is a sensitive issue best left to the Iraqis to address at their own pace. The United States should not be seen taking sides on a subject such as this. ?"
The Secretary of State also didn't like the amendment's call for the convening of "a conference" for Iraqis to reach an agreement on a comprehensive political settlement based on federalism. "By appearing to be forcing a solution to a problem that requires Iraqi ownership and consensus we could well undermine the stability we hope to achieve." And she took issue with the bill's assertion that the failure of Iraqis to reach a political settlement is a primary cause of violence in Iraq.
While some of the language has been finessed in certain ways -- the violence in Iraq is no longer said to be "increasing" -- the fundamental points that received such overwhelming support remained in the amendment.
"The Senate sent a strong message saying, 'We believe this is where this Iraq debate has to go -- a federalist system with semi-autonomous regions,'" said a senior aide to a Republican senator. About the White House's pushback, the aide scoffed. "They can't strongly oppose the bill in that Rice letter and also think it's meaningless."
The bill, however, does not require any action by the president -- it merely expresses the Senate's opinion. And it's an opinion with which the president would seem to disagree.
Asked about partitioning Iraq on Fox News Channel last October, Bush said, "I don't think that's the right way to go. I think that will increase sectarian violence. I think that will make it more dangerous --and so does Prime Minister Maliki with whom I spoke today."
The president went on to say such divisions would create "a situation where Sunnis and Sunni nations and Sunni radicals will be competing against Shia radicals, and the Kurds will then create problems for Turkey and Syria and you have got a bigger mess than we have at this point in time, which I believe is going to be solved."
The plan continues to have limited support among Iraqis themselves.