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Iraq Issue Will Percolate Through the Summer

As debate on spending and the president’s Iraq strategy looms on the Congressional horizon this week, the new Democratic majority will take its first whacks at what likely will be the two most important policy debates of this Congress.

With the expected House vote on a fiscal 2007 spending resolution and the beginning of Senate debate on a nonbinding resolution criticizing President Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq, Democrats will be giving a peek into the direction they plan to take the country on both domestic and foreign policy.

Though Senators will be on the record as supporting or opposing the president when they vote on the Iraq resolution this week or next, a vote on a nonbinding resolution has no teeth outside the realm of public opinion. Democrats will really make their mark on foreign policy and the conduct of the Iraq War in binding votes later this year — starting first with the supplemental war spending bill in the next month or so.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly has said that the important votes on Iraq will come when Congress takes up the expected $100 billion-plus supplemental war spending bill.

“That’s the money. That’s the real thing,” McConnell said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

McConnell also said the supplemental debate would be “a few months down the road,” leading to speculation Monday that the White House and Republicans wanted to give the president some time to deploy the 21,500 additional troops to Iraq before Democrats could potentially force a vote on whether to cut off funding for such a move or to demand that the president get Congressional approval for any troop increases in the region.

One Republican leadership aide acknowledged, “There will be a lot of opportunities to debate and for people to go on the record” on Iraq. However, Senate GOP leaders are angling to make sure that “this new strategy has an opportunity to go into effect before the real votes are taken,” the aide said.

But Democrats can afford to be flexible in their response to events as they unfold in Iraq.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said “any legislation coming down the pike” could be a vehicle for Congress to weigh in on the evolving situation in Iraq. But he cautioned that Democratic Senate leaders were taking this “one step at a time. The focus right now is getting a strong vote on a Sense of the Senate resolution.”

Even if Democrats decide not to amend, say, their prescription drug bill or student loan measure with Iraq policy dictates, there will be plenty of regular defense and foreign policy-related measures on which they can remind the president of their disdain for his handling of the Iraq War.

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