Senate Republicans bar Iraq withdrawal plan

WASHINGTON Fri Nov 16, 2007 6:37pm EST

1 of 5. A U.S. tank (covered with smoke and dust) fires towards insurgents to give cover to a U.S helicopter flying out of Combat Outpost Cahill, a small U.S. military camp southeast of Baghdad, November 6, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Erik de Castro

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a $50 billion Iraq war bill that included a troop pullout plan, killing the latest Democratic attempt to end the war while keeping up the fight over its funding.

Despite passionate appeals by Democrats, who noted that 2007 had been the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Iraq so far, Republicans stopped the proposal that had passed the House of Representatives on a largely partisan vote on Wednesday.

The measure needed 60 votes to pass under Senate rules; it only got 53 votes, with 45 senators voting against, all but two of them Republicans.

The bill would have given President George W. Bush about a quarter of the $196 billion he wants for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal 2008, while setting a goal that all U.S. combat soldiers withdraw from Iraq by December 15, 2008.

"What will it take to end this war? How many lives, how many limbs, how many broken families, how many innocent victims?" the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, asked. Over 850 U.S. soldiers have died this year.

"We know the president will not do this, but it is within our power" to start bringing U.S. troops home, Durbin argued.

Republicans responded that the Pentagon needed the money and this was the wrong time to meddle in Iraq military strategy just when levels of violence there were falling.

Democrats have tried repeatedly to limit the war this year, and Republicans promised to keep blocking their attempts. The narrowly divided Senate, where 60 of 100 votes are often required to advance legislation, has been the graveyard for most efforts.

"It's telling our soldiers, you're losers, when they're winners. So we're going to defeat it, now and forever," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said.

Congress already has appropriated $604 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since fighting began. The Bush administration wants lawmakers to approve the additional $196 billion as soon as possible, but without strings attached. The White House had warned Bush would veto the Democrats' plan.

But Democrats such as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd swear there will be no more "blank checks" for the Iraq war. Earlier Friday Democrats blocked a Republican plan to give Bush a "clean" $70 billion for the conflict.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said after Friday's action that the new war funds must be taken care of before the end of 2007.

But Democrats are in no hurry to return to the fray. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week she would not bring another Iraq war funding bill to the House floor this year.

Pentagon chief Robert Gates warned on Thursday that without a cash infusion, he would soon make plans to lay off civilian employees, terminate contracts and cut base operations.

But Democrats said Gates told them the money crunch was months away. "He said the Army is going to be just fine until the end of February, the Marines OK until the middle of March," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

(Editing by David Alexander)

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