McCain loses bid to expand troop use, Limits on military irk Clinton critic in Senate

May 05, 1999|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Ducking an issue it is too divided to decide, the Senate voted 78-22 yesterday to block Sen. John McCain's drive to give President Clinton authority to use "all necessary force" to prevail in Kosovo.

The Arizona Republican angrily accused the president of being "prepared to lose a war" rather than take the political risk of signaling to President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia -- and to Clinton's opponents in Congress -- that he is at least open to the use of ground troops.

McCain said he had offered his proposal in the "now forlorn hope that the president would take courage from it."

But most of McCain's colleagues -- including Democratic and Republican party leaders -- argued that it was "premature" for the Senate to consider an escalation of the Balkans conflict when the president has not signaled that he is ready to do so.

"Only in the rarest of circumstances, when it comes to executing a war, should the Congress get ahead of the commander in chief and his military advisers," said Sen. Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader. "That is especially true when the country is involved as it is today in Yugoslavia with other nations."

McCain, a Republican presidential candidate who was a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years in Vietnam, has been particularly outspoken on the need to consider the use of U.S. ground troops in Yugoslavia. He contends that Clinton already has authority under the Constitution to wage war as he sees fit without specific congressional permission.

But McCain has been furious at Clinton's repeated assertions that he plans to limit U.S. military actions to the NATO airstrikes now under way and has no intention of ordering ground forces.

"Let me identify for my colleagues the price paid by Kosovars for the president's repeated and indefensible ruling out of ground troops," McCain told the Senate yesterday. "Mr. Milosevic has been so certain of the limit to our commitment that he felt safe enough to widely disperse his forces.

"In other words, he has been able to displace, rape and murder more Kosovars more quickly than he could have if he feared he might face the mightiest army on earth."

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Maryland Democrats, were among the many senators who argued that McCain's proposal was not only premature, but also, as Mikulski put it, "too broad" in scope -- with no restriction on what type of U.S. force or weapons might be used in Kosovo.

A broad, bipartisan collection of other senators joined in the procedural vote to kill the McCain measure. Some argued that they would never support the introduction of ground troops into Yugoslavia to stop the conflict over Kosovo Province. Others opposed even the airstrikes. Many simply do not want to take a stand on the issue at this point.

Among the 22 senators who voted against killing the McCain proposal were some anti-war activists, such as Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat who said he welcomed the opportunity to debate the U.S. role in Kosovo. Cleland, who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War, expressed fear that the United States was slipping into a wider conflict by virtue of congressional inaction, as he said it did in Vietnam.

Cleland said he was particularly outraged that the Senate plans to limit debate on an emergency spending bill to pay for the military venture in Kosovo. He had hoped to try to attach amendments that would curtail or cut off the U.S. war effort.

But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott plans to bring the spending bill to the full Senate in a form that can be voted only up or down -- thus foiling Cleland's plans. Daschle said he would raise no objection. The spending bill is expected to spark opposition in the Senate because the House has more than doubled Clinton's $6 billion request, adding items unrelated to the Kosovo conflict, including a military pay increase.

Some Republican senators are protesting because that military appropriation would come out of the Social Security trust fund surplus that the Republicans have promised would remain intact.

The House is scheduled to take up the emergency spending measure tomorrow, and the Senate leaders hope to send it to the president next week.

McCain contended yesterday that he could have won Senate approval for his proposal if the White House has been actively supporting it. Instead, he charged, "the president and members of his Cabinet have joined with opponents to the war and lobbied hard for the resolution's defeat."

Administration officials say that reports of their lobbying against the McCain proposal have been exaggerated. But there is no dispute that Clinton was hardly eager to see his Kosovo policy put to another congressional test a week after embarrassing House votes.

Despite feverish administration lobbying, the House voted overwhelmingly to bar Clinton from using ground troops in Yugoslavia -- should he later decide to do so -- without congressional approval. Then, by a tie vote of 213 to 213, the House failed even to endorse the bombing campaign that is already in progress.

Administration officials dispute McCain's assertion that the Senate could have been persuaded, with Clinton's help, to back his proposal. But they feared a humiliating setback in which the McCain proposal, once approved by the Senate, would be defeated in the House, further undermining the administration's war effort.

Pub Date: 5/05/99

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