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Attempt to give troops more leave time fails

Senators trade heated accusations during the debate

SHARE Attempt to give troops more leave time fails

WASHINGTON (MCT) — Democrats accused Republicans of talking about supporting the troops but not actually doing it. Republicans accused Democrats of looking for a back-door method to end the war.

That is how the congressional debate over the conflict in Iraq is going.

Heated accusations among normally collegial senators dominated the back-and-forth about the future of American involvement in Iraq on Wednesday as lawmakers argued over troop rotation schedules and whether Congress should even have a say in the matter.

The Senate failed to cut off debate in order to vote on an amendment by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., requiring the military to provide more time off for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The vote was 56-41, with seven Republicans — including six up for re-election next year — joining 49 Democrats. But it fell short of the 60-vote threshold needed to quash GOP objections.

"It was wrong that we didn't come to the aid of our warriors who are fatigued and exhausted by the redeployment after redeployment," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the assistant Democratic leader. "It was wrong that we didn't stand by the military families who sit at home in anticipation, prayerful anticipation, of the next phone call, the next e-mail. It was wrong that so many members of the Senate who boast about supporting our troops wouldn't stand (up) for our troops."

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and other Republicans suggested that Democrats were simply looking for a back-door way to end the war without cutting off funding.

"This is another example over the years of Congress deciding we're going to micromanage the military," said Lott, the assistant Republican leader.

The amendment would have required the military to give troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan the same amount of time at home as they had served in those countries and it would have given National Guard and Reserve troops three times as much time at home before being redeployed.

"If you've been gone a year, you should get a year back. If you've been gone seven months, you should get seven months back," said Webb, a former assistant secretary of defense and a decorated Vietnam veteran.

Webb noted that the only ground combat veteran on the Republican side of the aisle, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was a co-sponsor of the amendment. On the Democratic side, he added, all ground combat veterans were co-sponsors.

"I believe that, if I may say, we collectively understand a truth acquired the hard way," Webb said. "And it's a truth that transcends politics."

Republican senators who served in the military and disagreed with Webb's proposal took umbrage at the notion that he knew best.

"You can be a medal of honor winner and never convince me," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who served in the Air Force, was a major in the Air National Guard and worked as a military lawyer during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Next week, the Senate is expected to vote on a controversial proposal by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to begin withdrawing troops in 120 days and end combat operations by April 30, 2008.

A number of Republican senators on Wednesday privately urged Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, to change course in Iraq. So far, Levin has attracted the support of three Republicans, but many others say they are unhappy with the current situation and don't want to wait any longer for a new Iraq policy from the White House.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R.-Maine., a moderate who faces a strong anti-war constituency and has criticized the administration's war plan, said Wednesday that she was formally supporting the Democratic legislation. Meanwhile, the House is expected to vote on a similar proposal Thursday to begin withdrawing troops in 120 days.

"We are responding to the American public's deep concern that this administration has promised things for five years which have not occurred," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. He said the House would continue to address the question of Iraq "on a regular basis" until there is a change of direction.