WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Senate Republicans proposed drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq over 15 months, but Democrats rejected the plan because it stretched to after the November 2008 election, both sides said on Friday.
It was the latest manifestation of a Senate stalemated over how to end the unpopular Iraq war launched by President George W. Bush in 2003. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sounding frustrated with the Senate, said her chamber would take up several Iraq bills next week, although none dictate a U.S. troop pullout.
“We in the House cannot confine our aspirations for changing the direction in Iraq to what might be possible today in the United States Senate,” Pelosi, a California Democrat, told a news conference.
Next week, the House will take up bipartisan legislation requiring the Pentagon to submit regular reports on troop withdrawal planning to defense committees of Congress, as well as a bill regulating contractors in response to recent deaths of Iraqis in incidents involving the U.S. firm Blackwater.
The Senate late on Thursday passed legislation that would grant 25,000 special immigrant visas over five years to Iraqis, such as translators, who have worked for the U.S. government and are threatened as a result. There is no companion bill yet in the House.
Bush has beaten back demands from Democrats for a quick end to the war, saying the U.S. presence would go on after he leaves office in January 2009. There are about 165,000 U.S. troops there now.
War opponents have struggled all year to gather enough votes in the Senate, which has a slender Democratic majority, to challenge Bush’s war strategy. Over time, more Republicans have become involved in talks on the war with Democrats, but few have joined Democrats on critical votes.
In the talks that stretched across recent days but ended without agreement on Thursday, Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich, a Foreign Relations Committee member, proposed setting a goal of changing and paring down the U.S. mission in Iraq within 15 months of enactment.
“It wouldn’t be before the (2008 presidential and congressional) election, so it wouldn’t be a political football,” Voinovich aide Chris Paulitz explained.
But Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan refused, wanting a nine-month goal for “transitioning the mission” in Iraq. Levin is co-author of a Democratic effort to force a troop pullout within nine months that has failed several times to pass the Senate, most recently a week ago.
“To try to put this until after the election rather than a reasonable period for completion I believe would be to unnecessarily introduce a political element to what is a bipartisan effort,” Levin told reporters. Other Democrats also would not back that approach, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters.
Levin said he would keep talking to Voinovich and other Republicans the Ohio senator had brought on board, including Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole and Minnesota’s Norm Coleman, who all face re-election next year. Even if they reached a deal, it was unclear when it could be brought to the Senate floor.