By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 29, 2007 2:06 PM
The Senate today defied a White House veto threat and narrowly approved a $122 billion war spending bill that calls for combat troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq this summer.
The 51-47 vote fell mostly along party lines, with two Republicans -- Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Gordon Smith (Ore.) -- joining Democrats in support of the package, which would fund U.S. military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Democrats also attached language that would start troop withdrawals within 120 days of passage, with a March 31, 2008, goal for completing combat operations in Iraq. Some troops could remain in Iraq after that deadline in order to conduct counterterrorism training and security operations.
The House approved stricter withdrawal terms in its spending package, approved last week. That bill would set a firm deadline of Aug. 31, 2008, for the removal of U.S. combat forces.
President Bush has strongly protested the withdrawal language in both the House and Senate bills, along with $20 billion in emergency domestic spending in the Senate measure, and has repeatedly warned that he intends to veto the package if the offending provisions aren't dropped.
He reiterated the threat this morning. "We expect there to be no strings on our commanders, and that we expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people's money," Bush said after meeting with House Republicans at the White House.
Democratic House and Senate leaders said they would begin negotiating the two versions of the spending package next week, with the goal of producing final legislation when the House returns from a two-week break on April 16.
Both bills passed with narrow majorities and Democrats are nowhere close to achieving the two-thirds House and Senate majorities that would be necessary to override a Bush veto.
In combative speech yesterday, Bush said "the American people will know who to hold responsible" if funding for the war stalls.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was prepared to blame Bush if a veto fight slows down funding from reaching the military, including billions for veterans health care and other benefits.
"If the president vetoes this bill, it is an asterisk in history," said Reid after the vote today. "He sets the record of undermining the troops more than any president we've ever had."
The Bush administration today charged that by staking a path designed for a veto, Congress is shirking its duty to the troops. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said a delay in funding has "very real consequences" and the Pentagon has been forced to move funds from Marine and Army procurement programs to help pay for 300 mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles for the troops in Iraq that were supposed to be funded by the supplement appropriation.
Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) were absent from today's vote, while independent Sen. Joseph L. Lieberman (Conn.) joined Republicans in opposing the bill.
Staff writer Lexie Verdon contributed to this article.