In a 53-47 vote, the Senate struck from a military construction spending bill a provision that would have terminated U.S. military participation in the peacekeeping mission next July 1 unless the president requested and Congress approved an extension.
Vice President Al Gore made a rare appearance in his capacity as president of the Senate to cast his vote in the event of a tie.
The Senate vote came a day after the House approved a somewhat less constricting limitation on the future of the Kosovo mission. The House voted 264-253 to require the president to certify by next April 1 that Europeans are providing their fair share of the financial burden of the mission. If not, the president must by April 30 lay down a plan for withdrawal.
The administration has threatened to veto the Senate bill, which also includes $4.7 billion in emergency funding for Kosovo and anti-drug efforts in Colombia, if the withdrawal language stayed in the bill.
"By mandating a date-certain withdrawal, U.S. policy would be on auto-pilot, constricting our ability to react to or deal with changing situations on the ground," the administration said in a statement.
Like the House version, the Senate withdrawal provision, by Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., also would have cut extra funds for the Kosovo operation unless the president certifies that European nations are paying their fair share of humanitarian aid and reconstruction costs.
Rep. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., offered the amendment to strike the withdrawal provision, said setting a deadline would result in more than a year of "dangerous uncertainty" and would be "inconsistent with what we have struggled so hard to achieve in the Balkans, which is stability in a relatively peaceful environment."
About 5,900 U.S. troops are in the NATO-led, 37,000-strong peacekeeping force, which has been stationed in Kosovo since the 78-day air war to drive Yugoslav troops out of the province ended last June.
Defense Secretary William Cohen said earlier this week he would recommend that President Clinton veto the Senate bill, which includes $8.6 billion for military construction and $4.7 billion in emergency spending for Kosovo and anti-drug efforts in Colombia, if it contained the Warner-Byrd language.
He said an artificial deadline for withdrawal could lead to a renewal of violence between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians and "call into question NATO's viability."
House members who pushed for the withdrawl argued that NATO's viability is already in question because of the lack of support offered by the allies.
"Our fighters flew 70 percent of the sorties over Kosovo. Our military took the greatest isk. We've fulfilled our financial obligations. Our allies, unfortunately, have not," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.
Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, chief sponsor of the amendment to a defense authorization bill, said European allies promised $402 million for the rebuilding of the war-torn province, but so far have only provided $93 million.
Much of the debate in both chambers touched on the feelings of many lawmakers that Congress is being left out of decisions on the deployment of U.S. troops abroad.
Clinton, like his predecessors in the White House, has insisted he doesn't need congressional approval to send troops to peacekeeping and other multinational missions. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who hopes to succeed Clinton in the White House, also has opposed the Senate measure as "legislative overreach."
Many in Congress, pointing to their constitutional authority over federal spending, disagree. Congress demanded a voice in the Persian Gulf War and has sought, largely unsuccessfully, to put limits on U.S. military actions in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Byrd, the Senate's leading constitutional authority, said his aim was not to force U.S. troops out of Kosovo but to make the president justify the mission there. "What we are trying to do is take back the authorities of the Congress which have been usurped by the administration."
On the other side, Rep. Norman Dicks of Washington, a Democratic expert on defense, said it would be "foolish and counterproductive" for Congress to intervene with a date certain for withdrawal.
"It is undermining the ability of the commander in chiefyou know we can only have one president at a time," he said.
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