Senate turns back attempt to pull U.S. troops from Kosovo
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate rejected Thursday an effort that could have led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the NATO-protected Yugoslav province of Kosovo if the president was not able to certify by the middle of next year that the Western allies had picked up a significant portion of the cost of the long-term Kosovo operation.
The withdrawal language, included in the regularly routine annual spending bill covering military construction projects, would have placed the next president in the difficult position of having to submit information by July 1, 2001, detailing the "shared burden" between the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners on Kosovo.
The future of the mission would then have been put up for a congressional vote, according to the bill language.
Thursday's successful 53-47 vote came on an amendment sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and John McCain (R-Arizona) to strike the language from the bill.
Levin insisted that the allies had already upheld their commitments, and the inclusion of the language in the spending bill was nothing more than a political maneuver.
"The Europeans now have 85 percent of the combat force, which is exactly what we wanted them to do," he said.
If the allies were not contributing a fair share of the burden, according to the bill's original language -- drafted by Sens. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) and John Warner (R-Virginia) -- then the United States should begin the process of withdrawing its roughly 6,000 peacekeeping troops now on the ground in Kosovo.
The House voted 264-153 on Wednesday to add similar bipartisan language to its version of the fiscal 2001 military construction appropriations bill.
The House amendment would call on the next president to certify by April 1, 2001, that the NATO allies had met their commitments to fund police, housing, reconstruction and humanitarian aid in the ethnically torn Balkan province.
The 10-hour debate in the Senate was often spirited, with supporters of the Byrd-Warner language saying the issue centered on Congress' power of the purse -- that the legislative branch's constitutionally granted ability to fund all operations of government and the military should give it a significant say in the allocation, deployment and use of U.S. forces overseas.
That power, Byrd insisted, has been usurped by recent presidential administrations -- most notably by the Clinton Administration's dispatching of ground forces to Kosovo after the NATO air campaign against the Serbian-controlled Yugoslav military came to an end last year.
"This is an issue of whether Congress is upholding its power," Byrd said. "It is about the arrogance of power in a White House that insists on putting our men and women in harm's way and spending tax dollars without the consent of their elected representatives."
"All this does is say to our allies: 'Uphold your commitments,'" said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) in support of the provision.
But others in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, blasted the process, saying that while they may have believed in the aim of the language, they could not support the unorthodox way in which it was being shepherded through the upper chamber.
"What we're doing here is very unusual," said an animated McCain, the one-time GOP 2000 presidential candidate and scion of a family with a long military tradition.
"I've never seen an issue of this importance placed in a military construction bill," McCain said. "A routine piece of legislation has now become a matter of grave importance."
McCain, speaking on the floor, praised his once bitter Republican presidential rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, for taking a position contrary to the Byrd-Warner language.
Vice President Al Gore was in the Senate chamber for the vote.
The language, McCain quoted Bush as saying, represented "an overreach of congressional authority."
Others who spoke out against the language argued that it should have been considered in the proper forum -- such as the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees -- rather then the Appropriations Committee, and that it could cause significant damage to the NATO alliance.
"This is not a responsible way to discuss this measure," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska). "It could create a vacuum."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), placed an emergency telephone call to Vice President Al Gore on Thursday afternoon, asking him to make an appearance on Capitol Hill to act in his capacity as President of the Senate in case a tie-breaking vote was needed on the Levin amendment.
The vote was not necessary, but Gore stayed in the Senate chamber through the vote, just in case.