Iraq: This Is No Longer a Test
The Senate is currently debating a measure to cut off funds for the Iraq war, after the chamber voted Tuesday by a wide margin to proceed with debate on a troop withdrawal bill sponsored by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.).
On Monday, Capitol Briefing incorrectly predicted that Feingold's bill would not get the 60 votes required to end cloture and begin debate. Similar measures had failed overwhelmingly several times before, so Tuesday's session was seen as merely a "test vote" before the Senate moved on to consideration of a housing bill.
What Capitol Briefing did not anticipate -- and Democrats were surprised, too -- was that Senate Republicans would make a strategic decision to vote in favor of cloture on the bill, not because they support it but because they wanted to use today's debate to highlight what they see as measurable progress in Iraq. The cloture vote drew support from 43 of the 46 Republicans present for the vote, while 20 Democrats voted against it (none of the chamber's three presidential candidates showed up).
Why did Republicans decide to move forward with today's debate? One reason is that they believe the statistics showing reduced violence in Iraq puts them in favorable position. But there's another reason, illustrated by recent polls.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month showed that "public views of the national economy are now more negative than at any point in nearly 15 years." More importantly for the purposes of today's debate, that poll showed that voters listed the economy as by far the most important issue in determining their choice for president, a reversal from last year, when Iraq was easily the most important issue. And the survey also showed that only 42 percent of respondents think the U.S. is "making significant progress in Iraq," while 54 percent do not.
Traditionally, Republicans -- including presumed presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.) -- usually believe they are on firmer ground debating national security issues, while Democrats typically prefer to focus discussion on domestic issues like the economy or the housing crisis. When bad news from Iraq was dominating front pages, that trend was reversed, but now that many indicators of violence in Iraq appear to be down, the GOP wants to tell that story on the Senate floor.
Of course, many Democrats and critics of the war don't believe the U.S. is making progress on the political front in Iraq, and still believe most voters want to bring the troops home. Democrats are getting the chance to make that case in the Senate today, whether they wanted it or not.
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