National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) amendment to specify minimum periods between deployment to combat of active-duty troops and reservists/On approving the amendment
senate Roll Call 341 Sep 19, 2007
This vote was on a measure that would have required that the military provide minimum periods between deployment to combat of active-duty troops and reservists. Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) attempted to attach the language to legislation authorizing Defense Department spending for fiscal 2008. The two tried to attach a nearly identical amendment to the same bill in June, an effort that also failed. (See Roll Call 241.)
The amendment would have required that active-duty troops spend as much time at home as they do deployed, and reservists would have to spend as much time off-duty as they spend on active duty. The effort was prompted by repeated extensions of active-duty troops' deployments and the prolonged call-up of reservists, which many critics have called a backdoor draft The language of the amendment would have allowed the president to waive the requirement after he certified that the troops were needed for an "emergency."
Many Republicans articulated their belief that the measure would unconstitutionally tie the president's hands during wartime and constituted a "backdoor" strategy to begin a pullout of combat troops from Iraq.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said while he shared Webb and Hagel's concerns "for the well-being of our troops and their families," he added: "But let me be clear: Senator Webb's amendment is not a litmus test for whether you care about the troops."
McCain said it was "obvious" to him that Democrats were using this amendment as a sly attempt to begin a withdrawal from Iraq, as the practical effect of adding time between deployments would be to force the military to withdraw troops from Iraq on a substantially swifter timeline than planned. Implicit in McCain's assertion was the understanding that the military services do not have enough people to sustain troop levels while giving service members as much time at home as they are deployed overseas.
"I say to my colleagues, I will say it again and again, the president's present strategy is succeeding," McCain continued. "If you want the troops out, support the present mission, support the mission that is succeeding. Don't say you support the troops when you do not support their mission."
Democrats fired back that stressing the troops was ultimately counterproductive, as morale and recruitment are both down due to the extended tours and broken promises to service members as to when they could return home.
"We will be dealing with this issue for many years to come, because the consequences of what has been going on are that we are doing great damage to our military force structure, great damage to our Army and our Marines," Hagel said, adding that the country was asking for sacrifice only from 1 percent of its population. "The fact is, you cannot grind down your people, you cannot grind down your force structure as we have been doing to our force structure over the last years - redeployment after redeployment, and longer and longer deployments."
Hagel added that the military generals are clear that the rate of redeployments will have to be cut back by the spring of 2008 simply because "we can't sustain the force structure we have assigned in Iraq today."
Republicans also asserted that it wasn't Congress' role to assert itself in the executive's conduct of a war. To which Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) replied, "I am sorry, but that is part of our constitutional obligation. We do not just declare the war and send the money; we have responsibilities that reach far beyond that."
In the end, the amendment found enough supporters to pass with a simple majority but not enough to reach the higher threshold of a three-fifths majority required by a previous agreement between the Democrat leadership and Republican leadership.
The final vote was 56 to 44, which reflected two more "aye" votes than when the measure was put before the Senate in June. Six Republicans crossed party lines and voted for the amendment. Democrats were unanimous in their support, but the measure didn't have the votes to pass. Thus, an amendment that would have required minimum rest periods for active-duty troops and reservists to equal their time spent deployed failed to pass a by the three-fifths majority required, and a bill authorizing Defense Department spending for fiscal 2008 went forward without the provision.
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