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April 4, 2007

Senate Iraq Supplemental Sidesteps Iran War Debate

Washington – Last week, by a narrow 51 to 47 vote, the Senate passed a war supplemental spending bill (HR 1591) calling for the withdrawal of troops in Iraq by 2008. Following the House’s lead, the $123.3 billion Senate bill failed to include any language barring military action against Iran, and proposed amendments to that effect by freshman Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were overlooked.

Both champions of Iran-related legislation that require the White House to come to Congress before taking military action on Iran, Sens. Webb and Sanders each fought to attach similar bill language to the supplemental amendments during the supplemental’s consideration. Each failed to have their amendments considered or voted on the Senate floor as Democrats opted to exclude references to US military action on Iran for fear of jeopardizing the bill’s passage.

Sen. Webb’s drafted amendment was ruled not germane, and was therefore thrown out because the Senate had invoked cloture. Sen. Sanders’ amendment, while germane, still lacked a Republican cosponsor and was ultimately withdrawn. The Senator did not feel confident introducing the amendment without a conservative backer, according to Hill sources.

The Senate’s rushed consideration of the US Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act of 2007, was also named as a possible cause for the amendments’ failed consideration. According to news reports, the pro-Israel lobby was responsible for the removal of Iran-war prevention language in the House version of the bill when it was debated earlier last month.

In addition to calling for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by summer of 2008, the bill finances military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also allocates disaster funds, bolsters Medicare and Medicaid programs, requires the inspection of military medical facilities, and offers assistance to Jordan, Liberia, and Lebanon.

Whereas no Iran-related language made it to the supplemental, the Senate may still see such a measure contained in a future legislative vehicle. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) is considering allying with Sens. Webb and Sanders to introduce a separation of powers amendment to the upcoming defense authorization bill that would prevent military action on Iran. The amendment could be introduced in late May to the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which both Byrd and Webb are members. The amendment may also be introduced in June on the Senate floor.

After immense pressure from the grassroots, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also pledged to introduce separate legislation in the House that will revive the Iran language. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Tom Lantos (D-CA) was recently asked by Pelosi to draft a bill prohibiting arbitrary military action on Iran, although the status of that measure remains unclear.

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