WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans agreed Tuesday to advance a bill that would cut off money for Iraq, saying the additional debating time would allow them to tout progress there.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the debate will "give us a chance to talk about the extraordinary progress that's been made in Iraq over the last six months, not only on the military side, but also with civilian reconciliation beginning to finally take hold in the country."
The Senate voted 70-24 to advance the bill past a procedural hurdle and begin debating it in earnest. A final vote was expected later this week or next week.
The vote came on the same day top Army officials told a Senate panel that the Army is under serious strain and must reduce the length of combat tours.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had said earlier that "a civil war rages" in Iraq, said he welcomes the additional debate on the money bill although he also said "obviously, this is only an effort to stall."
"Americans need to start taking care of Americans," he said. "We cannot spend a half billion dollars every day in Iraq."
Senate Republicans had been widely expected to block the measure, as they had done repeatedly in the past. But after emerging from a closed-door meeting earlier Tuesday, McConnell said the GOP members had indicated they were now eager to discuss the war.
In recent months, violence in Iraq has subsided significantly and the Baghdad government has made small steps toward political reconciliation, including plans to hold provincial elections on Oct. 1.
While Democratic voters remain largely against the war, polls have shown, the security improvement has helped to cool anxiety among Republicans and have had the effect of turning the focus on to economic problems at home.