U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has withdrawn from Senate consideration a bill that calls for a troop pullout from Iraq and a cut-off of funds for the war because it lacked support. Congressional Democrats hope to revisit the issue in the coming months, but for now, have turned their attention to the economic impact the Iraq war is having on their domestic priorities. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The Senate spent much of the week debating proposals by Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq by July, cut funding for the war, and request that the Bush administration send Congress a report detailing its strategy for defeating al-Qaida.
Senator Feingold argues the war in Iraq has diverted attention from a growing threat posed by al-Qaida. "We are watching al-Qaida strengthen and develop its affiliates around the world while we remain bogged down in Iraq. How foolish can we be to allow them to reconstitute all over the world as they watch us unable to extricate ourselves from a mistake, which was, of course, going into Iraq the way we did," he said.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, challenged Feingold's argument. "The idea of withdrawing from Iraq as some way to better fight al-Qaida I think is absurd, naïve and dangerous. The way you beat al-Qaida is you align yourself with people like we found in Iraq, you help them help themselves. You make sure that when Iraq is said and done in terms of battle in a greater struggle that we won and al-Qaida lost. To leave prematurely would put this enemy back into the fight," he said.
Many Democrats are also reluctant to support Feingold's proposals, particularly the cut off of funding for the Iraq war.
Because of the lack of support, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shelved the legislation for now, but said the time that senators spent discussing it had been useful. "I think the American people have been served well by the debate we have had the last couple of days," he said.
Reid vowed to return to the debate in the coming months, when lawmakers would begin considering the administration's request for another $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But for now, congressional Democrats have begun focusing on the impact the cost of the Iraq war is having on their domestic spending programs.
Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, chaired a joint House-Senate Economic Committee hearing on the issue Thursday. "It is becoming clear to all Americans, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, that by continuing to spend huge amounts in Iraq, we are prevented from spending on important goals and vital needs here at home," he said.
But Republicans argue that withdrawing troops from Iraq would have its own costs. "A virtually immediate withdrawal advocated by some politicians is not militarily feasible, and a premature withdrawal could produce immense costs, both in human terms as well as economic terms," said Congressman Jim Saxton, a New Jersey Republican.
A report by the committee's Democratic staff members estimates that the economic cost of the Iraq war has exceeded $1 trillion.