Senate Takes Crack at War Funding and Timeline

March 25, 2007 — -- Heated debate is expected in the Senate beginning Monday, as senators take up their version of an emergency war funding bill, which requires most U.S. troops to leave Iraq by April of next year.

This follows the House's passage of a bill that authorizes the money, but requires that combat troops come home before September 2008 or earlier if the Iraqi government does not meet certain requirements.

Republicans say they will try to strip language from the bill mandating troop withdrawals. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., believes they have the votes to do it.

"I believe that we do," said Lott on "Fox News Sunday." "There are members in the Senate in both parties that are not comfortable with how things have gone in Iraq. But they understand that artificial timetables, even as goals, are a problem. … For Congress to impose an artificial date of any kind is totally irresponsible."

But Democrats insist Americans want an exit strategy.

"We are in our fifth year of the war now," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on "Fox News Sunday." "A timetable, I believe, is, in fact, in order."

Anti-war Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said he won't accept the status quo.

"It is now time, going into the fifth year of that effort, for the Congress to step forward and be part of setting some boundaries and some conditions as to our involvement," said Hagel on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Because Democrats may not have the 51 votes to pass their bill, they may have to water it down or add some pork to entice reluctant senators to support it. It's also possible that Republicans could filibuster.

Either way, it doesn't look like the Pentagon will get the funding it needs anytime soon. Congress takes its spring break at the end of the week: The Senate will be gone for one week, the House for two weeks.

Even if the Senate manages to pass something this week, it will have to wait until the House gets back to convene a conference committee to hash out the differences between the two chambers' bills. And if the completed bill mandates troop withdrawals, President Bush has promised to veto it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned that if the bill is not signed into law by April 15, the Army may need to curtail or suspend National Guard and Reserve training, slow the training of Iraq-bound active duty troops, stop repairs on equipment used in training, and cut funding for the upgrade and renovation of barracks and other facilities for troops and their families.

If the bill isn't law by May 15, there could be even more drastic cuts that lead to extended tours of duty for Army units in Iraq because replacements aren't trained to replace them.