After more than a week of debating Iraq, including a climactic all-night session, the Senate moved on to an education bill Thursday.
Republicans on Wednesday blocked a proposal calling for most U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by next spring. Senate Democratic leaders promptly shelved the defense policy bill, which they say they will revive when they can attach their withdrawal timetable to it.
After the empty pizza boxes were carted away and the cots were rolled back into storage, members of the U.S. Senate — a few looking a bit worse for wear — found themselves pretty much where they were before the all-night session — deadlocked over Iraq.
Although four Republicans joined the Democrats' united ranks, it was not enough. Sixty votes were needed to break the GOP filibuster of an amendment that would call for troop withdrawals beginning in 120 days.
After the vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the long debate had not been for naught.
"We spent two days showing America that we're not going to back down, that we're going to continue to fight, that if President Bush and his allies continue to refuse to budge, we will continue to show them the way," Reid said.
Using Senate rules, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was able to block the amendment after insisting that it must have 60 votes to pass. Such a super majority is often required in the Senate, McConnell said.
Four Republicans joined with Democrats to end the filibuster, Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Colllins. Smith and Collins are both expected to face tough re-election fights next year.
Several other Republicans have recently expressed discomfort with the president's Iraq policy, but yesterday they voted against the Democrats' withdrawal timetable. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the amendment would have sent a bad message to the nation's friends and enemies.
After the troop withdrawal amendment was blocked, majority leader Reid announced he was shelving the underlying defense policy bill — at least for now. The bill contains, among other things, a military pay raise and authority to buy more bomb-resistant vehicles for Iraq. None of its provisions would take effect until October, so Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the amendment's sponsor, said there is time to win over more Republicans.
"And we believe that, with time, when we come back to the bill as soon as we possibly can, that we will pick up even more support when the American people see who voted to change course and who did not," he said.
Delaying further action on the bill also means Reid can put off votes on other proposed amendments he does not support. One of these would implement all the recommendations of the Iraq study group, while another would call on the president to draft a new Iraq policy.
It is not clear when the Senate will return to any of these votes, but with the August recess approaching, it may not be until the fall.