Senate Sends War Timetable To Bush's Desk

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid arrive for a news conference after the Senate approved the war funding plan.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid arrive for a news conference after the Senate approved the war funding plan. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007

The Senate approved a $124 billion Iraq war spending bill yesterday that would force troop withdrawals to begin as early as July 1, inviting President Bush's veto even as party leaders and the White House launch talks to resolve their differences.

The 51 to 46 vote was a triumph for Democrats, who just weeks ago worried about the political wisdom of a veto showdown with the commander in chief as troops fight on the battlefield. But Democrats are hesitant no more. And now that withdrawal language has passed both houses of Congress, even Republicans acknowledge that Bush won't get the spending bill that he has demanded, one with no strings attached.

Bush is expected to veto the bill early next week. But bipartisan negotiations have already started on a compromise to cool the red-hot war debate, at least on the funding front.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke with Bush yesterday morning and later held initial talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers began to weigh alternatives to the legislation's most contentious provision, the binding withdrawal terms. The goal is to be more flexible but still restrain how Bush conducts the war.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who has criticized Bush's war policy but opposed the Democratic bill as too heavy-handed, singled out one development that has stoked a more cooperative spirit on Capitol Hill: word that the Iraqi parliament may recess for two months this summer.

"That would send a very bad signal to the world that they don't have the resolve that matches the resolve of the brave troops that are fighting in the battle today," Warner said.

The provision most likely to survive the next round is a set of political and diplomatic benchmarks for the Iraqi government. The language all but certain to be dropped, or at least diluted, would require troop withdrawals to begin as early as July 1 and no later than Oct. 1. Another sticking point is the bill's $21 billion worth of domestic spending, which Bush and some Republicans have protested as pork.

A significant number of Republicans support the benchmarks -- possibly enough to override a second veto, should Bush resort to that. The measures would prod Baghdad officials to build up military forces, crack down on militias and sectarian violence, protect minority rights and manage Iraq's extensive petroleum reserves.

Bush announced the benchmarks in January in a televised address but set no consequences if the Iraqis failed to deliver. The spending bill would make a continued U.S. troop commitment contingent on progress -- although only up to a point.

Beginning July 1, if Bush decides that the Iraqis are falling short, U.S. combat forces would be withdrawn over six months. If the government shows progress, the deadline would be extended until Oct. 1, with troops leaving by March 2008.

GOP leaders signaled yesterday that they are ready to negotiate. In the House, which passed the measure late Wednesday largely along party lines, Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the veto "will give us a chance to sit down with our colleagues across the aisle and find common ground."

McConnell said, "There are a number of members . . . who do think that benchmarks could be helpful, depending upon how they're crafted."

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