WASHINGTON – Senate critics of President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq failed Saturday in a renewed effort to force debate on a resolution opposing the administration’s military strategy. But seven Republicans broke from the president in a sign of the difficulty he faces in holding together support for his Iraq plan. It was the second time Republicans were able to deny opponents of the war a debate on the critical resolution, and it came just a day after the House went on record formally opposing Bush’s plan to increase the military presence in Iraq. The rare Saturday-afternoon vote showed that Democrats were slowly drawing support from Senate Republicans for what was shaping up to be a drawn-out fight between the Democratically controlled Congress and Bush over his execution of the war. “This is the United States Senate,” said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., defending his party’s stance as senators squared off at noon. “The majority cannot tell the minority what we are going to have one vote on, take it or leave it.” Democrats were leery of the Republican plan, written by Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, because of its potential to attract the most Senate votes and to overshadow Senate action criticizing the troop increase. Some lawmakers also believed that Congress might be asked to restrict military spending, and they did not want their hands tied by an earlier vote on a more symbolic resolution. The Senate vote came on what is technically known as a “motion to proceed,” which would have allowed the Senate to begin considering the identical language approved Friday afternoon by the House on a mainly party-line vote. The two-sentence resolution states, in part, that “Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on Jan. 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.” Without 60 votes for the procedural motion, the Senate was unable to start debate. It was an outcome that left Democrats accusing Republicans of ducking a vote directly opposing Bush’s policy, even though many of them had significant reservations about the conduct of the war and concerns for the political repercussions. “The American people can see what is happening here,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. “They know that some want to prevent a vote at all costs.” Nelson said it was time to move beyond the “debate about the debate” and put the Senate on record. “Are you in favor of deploying thousands of troops to the crossroads of civil war in Iraq, or do you oppose that plan?” Nelson asked. Nelson and Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., co-wrote an earlier, more detailed bipartisan resolution disagreeing with the troop buildup. But that proposal stalled Feb. 5, when the Republican leadership held its ranks together against the Democratic plan to allow a vote on that plan but not on the Gregg alternative. Warner sided with Republicans in that initial vote but broke from his party on Saturday. “We have the right to respectfully disagree,” Warner said. “Mr. President, do you need 21,500 additional men and women in this conflict to go into the streets and alleys of Baghdad?” Other Republicans who had helped thwart the earlier debate also said it was time to end the procedural impasse. “In my view, it is most important that the Senate speak out on Iraq,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. “If we continue to debate whether there should be a debate while the House of Representatives acts, the Senate will become irrelevant. To paraphrase the Roman adage, `The Senate should not fiddle while Iraq burns.”‘ Some Republicans accused Democrats of dangerous political posturing in advance of the 2008 presidential and congressional elections and of undermining both U.S. forces and the administration. They said opponents of Bush were trying to have it both ways, criticizing his policy but not taking the more politically risky step of curtailing spending on the war. “If you think we are in the middle of civil war, cut off funding,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said to his colleagues. The Saturday session drew a throng of spectators who lined up outside the Senate hoping to get a glimpse of the debate. Less than an hour before the vote, a woman wearing an American flag scarf over her head was escorted from the Senate chamber after shouting a message that interrupted Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Records show that the Senate has met on Saturday only 14 times in the past decade and conducted votes on only five of those occasions. Not all senators were present for the vote, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Republican presidential primary candidate, who was campaigning in Iowa. Two other Republican senators, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, had left for Baghdad. But with the burden of reaching 60 votes on their side, Democrats did not dare miss the showdown, particularly the party’s presidential candidates. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York spent the morning campaigning in New Hampshire but came back for the vote, as did Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who had been in South Carolina. Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware flew from Iowa to Washington and was planning to return to Iowa on Saturday night.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The vote, 56-34, was four short of what was needed to break the stalemate. But Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said the vote showed that Senate sentiment was running against the president. “A majority of the United States Senate just voted on Iraq, and a majority of the United States Senate is against the escalation in Iraq,” Reid said as he withdrew the resolution. Just two Republicans sided with Democrats in a similar procedural showdown earlier this month, and five more came aboard on Saturday. Democrats were counting on the House vote and on widespread public unease with the war to help build opposition to Bush’s plan. “It may be called a surge, but I believe it is a plunge,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “A plunge into the sectarian cauldron, a plunge into the unknown.” Republicans continued to try to make the case that it was Democrats who were shutting down a full-fledged Senate review of Bush’s Iraq strategy by refusing the Republicans a chance to offer an alternative that would place the Senate on record against cutting off money for armed forces in the field.