Republicans block debate on troops

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The Independent US

Republicans in the Senate blocked not only a vote, but even a debate, last night on a bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush's troop "surge" in Iraq - dealing a big blow to critics of the war, and defying the will of the electorate as expressed in last November's mid-term Congressional elections.

In the crucial procedural vote, the Democratic-driven proposal mustered a majority of 49 votes to 47, but far short of the 60 required to end a filibuster and bring the resolution to the Senate floor. The measure was non-binding and Mr Bush had made clear he would ignore it. But its passage would have been a clear and humiliating repudiation of his policy

At the best of times, Democrats have only a two-seat majority in the 100-member Senate. But their strength has been reduced to only 50 because of the grave illness of Tim Johnson, the senior senator for South Dakota. They had been hoping for support from up to a dozen Republicans - many of them facing tough re-election campaigns in 2008 - who have have criticised Mr Bush's decision to send a further 21,500 combat troops to Iraq. In the end, however, pressure from the White House brought the waverers into line.

The row reached its climax as Mr Bush sent his fiscal 2008 budget to Congress yesterday, requesting an additional $145bn (£72bn) for spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the financial year starting on 1 October 2007 - on top of a regular, and record, Pentagon budget of $481bn (£240bn).

In the budget documents, the President estimated he would need a further $50bn (£25bn) for Iraq in 2009. The decline, however, implies no timetable for the withdrawal of US forces.

"There will be no timetable set. And the reason why is because we don't want to send mixed signals to an enemy or to a struggling democracy or to our troops," Mr Bush said after his cabinet formally approved the overall $2.9 trillion (£1.45tr) budget request.

In past years, the White House has faced no serious challenge over its military spending plans, despite the mounting unpopularity of a four-year-old war which is now set to become even more costly than the Vietnam conflict - which lasted twice as long. With Democrats now in charge on Capitol Hill, that is set to change.

Even though almost no Democrat favours the extreme option of cutting off funding for the war, Bush officials will now have to provide in person a detailed accounting to Congress of how money will be spent. Previous requests came in the form of ad-hoc "supplementals" that received virtually no scrutiny.