WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate said on Friday he could no longer vote for funding the war in Iraq unless restrictions were attached that would begin winding down American involvement there.
“This Congress can’t give President (George W.) Bush another blank check for Iraq,” said Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, who has always opposed the war but until now voted to fund it.
“I can’t support an open-ended appropriation which allows this president to continue this failed policy,” he said in a speech at the left-leaning Center for National Policy.
Durbin, from Illinois, said he and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin were working on limits that could be attached to the next war funding bill, such as limiting troops to conducting counterterrorism operations and training Iraqi security forces.
“I believe Congress should strictly tie future funding for the war in Iraq to a new role for our troops there,” he said.
Congress this fall takes up legislation on Pentagon policy and spending, in addition to a separate war funding bill.
The White House is expected to ask for some $200 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year that starts on October 1. Durbin said he thought the Senate would take up the war funding bill by early October.
Since September 2001, Congress has provided $602 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with about 70 percent of that going to Iraq. The most recent funding bill, approved by Congress in May, took months to pass. Bush vetoed the first version after Democrats attached a withdrawal timeline.
Although he was one of 23 senators who voted against the use of force in Iraq in 2002, Durbin said he was increasingly troubled by his votes to pay for military operations there.
“Now I just realized I can’t do this. It’s perpetuating a policy that is taking more American lives. We have to wind this war down,” Durbin said, adding he would not use his leadership post to demand other Democrats follow his lead.