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WASHINGTON -- In a tense volley on the Senate floor today, Republicans and Democrats blamed one another for the stalled debate over President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

A showdown on the war was blocked by Republican senators Monday night, although the issue could come up again this week as Democrats search for ways to force Bush into changing his strategy.

Nearly all Republicans voted to keep the Senate from debating a non-binding resolution that opposes sending an additional 21,500 soldiers to Iraq.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said today that whenever the war is debated, Republicans will demand the Senate also consider an alternate resolution that Democrats have thwarted.

Proposed by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that measure expresses support for Bush's troop surge and opposition to cutting off any troop funding.

Democrats, McConnell said, "do not want to vote on whether the troops should be funded. There is no more critical question at this moment."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of using a diversion to put off an Iraq debate he said will eventually take place.

"The real issue," Reid said, "is surge or no surge, escalation or no escalation. That's the debate the American people deserve."

On Monday, facing a threatened filibuster from Republicans, the Senate voted 49-47 to debate the Iraq war. But that fell 11 votes short of the total needed to break any GOP filibuster, and the debate over the resolution was postponed.

All but two Republicans voted to block debate.

Nebraska's senators voted opposite each other, even though both are co-sponsors of the proposed Senate resolution that "disagrees" with Bush's troop buildup.

GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel voted with his party to filibuster his own resolution disapproving of the president's plan, even though he has been the most outspoken Republican in Congress opposing Bush's troop escalation.

At a recent Senate hearing, for example, Hagel wagged his finger and chided senators hesitant about debating the war. "If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes," he said then.

Hagel's spokesman, Mike Buttry, said Hagel voted for the filibuster Monday to preserve the minority party's rights.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Hagel said he was confident the Senate's leaders would reach an agreement to allow a full-fledged debate.

"It (debate) is clearly in the interest of our country," Hagel said. "It is clearly in the interest of our troops."

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson joined all but one fellow Democrat in voting for debate. He complained that Republicans were delaying the Senate from possibly influencing Bush's strategy.

"Here we are after weeks of negotiations, after weeks of public proclamations, after weeks of consideration, we're about to witness the minority choose politics over progress," Nelson said.

"The time has come," he said. "If not now, when? If not now, do we wait for troops to die before we oppose the president's plan? If not now, do we wait for more violence, more unrest, more danger for our troops before we act?"

Some, Nelson added, have said that the president deserves one more chance to succeed in Iraq. "How do we ask our troops to do again what has failed in the past?" he asked.

Reid voiced surprise that Hagel and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the lead GOP sponsor of the anti-troop surge resolution, had joined their Republican colleagues to support a filibuster of the measure.

"How could they vote against the motion to proceed?" Reid asked.

Over the past several weeks, senior Democrats and a handful of Republicans worked together to draft a resolution opposing the president's new strategy.

The administration and its congressional supporters have fought to derail the resolution, which would serve as an embarrassing rebuke of White House policy.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has drafted an alternative resolution establishing tough benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, while not opposing the extra troops. Other resolutions also could come up.

Republicans who support Bush's troop increase today denied trying to put off the debate.

"We're having a debate right now," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said the conflict in Iraq is important to America's security.

"This is not the president's war. It's freedom's war," DeMint said. "We all share a stake in its outcome. We need a policy that completes the mission with dignity, honor and victory."


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