Colorado Democratic Senator Won't Back Cutting Funds For Troops in Iraq

Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar said Friday that Congress should not cut off funding for the war in Iraq while U.S. troops are still there, a stance that puts him at odds with his party's leadership.

He also criticized President Bush, saying he had worsened "the extreme partisan divide" on Iraq by questioning Democrats' support for the troops.

Salazar, a first-term Democrat who often stakes out independent positions on major issues, said he would introduce legislation to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. The group suggested U.S. combat troops could be pulled out of Iraq by early next year.

Salazar released the text of a letter he sent Bush and key Senate Democrats that said, "I do not believe that we can or should cut funding for our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan while we anticipate that our troops will be in harm's way."

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he wanted to cut off money for the Iraq war next year. He has signed on to support a proposal by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., to cut off funding for combat operations after March 31, 2008.

Feingold has said cutting off funding would require the president to pull troops out of Iraq. The Bush administration has said setting deadlines would put troops at risk.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said each senator was free to decide whether to support the Reid-Feingold proposal.

Salazar said he had not read the proposal yet and declined to say whether he would support it as well as his own proposal to implement the Iraq Study Group suggestions.

Salazar said he would seek bipartisan support for his legislation, in particular from Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Salazar said the study's 79 recommendations have been largely ignored lately by the White House and Congress in the fight over whether to cut funding for troops.

The study group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, issued its recommendations in December.