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The new Democratic-led Congress defied the White House yesterday on Iraq. In a cliffhanger vote of 218 to 212, the House of Representatives passed an emergency war-funding bill requiring that most U.S. forces be out of Iraq no later than August of next year.
President Bush criticized the vote and demanded a war-funding bill with no strings attached. The battle over Iraq policy now moves to the Senate, as NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: Just an hour after the House passed its war-funding bill with a troop pullout deadline, President Bush fired back from a White House event where he stood ringed by military veterans. He derided the House vote, calling it an act of political theater. Should the bill reach his desk, the president vowed, he will veto it.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: And because the vote in the House was so close, it is clear that my veto would be sustained.
WELNA: A confrontation with Congress is clearly growing over war powers. Mr. Bush went on to say he won't accept an congressional dictates on how to fight the war.
Pres. BUSH: These Democrats believe that the longer they can delay funding for our troops, the more likely they are to force me to accept restrictions on our commanders, an artificial timetable for withdrawal, and their pet spending projects. This is not going to happen.
WELNA: The main target of that tough talk is the Senate, which is about to take up a war-funding bill of its own that also has troop withdrawal guidelines. In some respects, the Senate bill goes farther than the House version in that it requires that phased troop redeployments begin 120 days after enactment. And it sets a nonbinding target date of March 31, 2008 for having most troops out.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday it's urgent the Senate act on the war-funding bill.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): It is the view of the Republican side of the aisle that we need to finish that bill next week. The troops need the money. There's a veto threat out against the bill potentially, if it's not fixed on the floor of the Senate.
WELNA: The fix McConnell favors is an amendment sponsored by some of the Iraq war's most ardent supporters - Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and independent Democrat Joe Lieberman. It would strip the bill of language requiring troop withdrawals, which as Lieberman points out was already rejected as a stand-alone resolution.
Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): I believe that we're going to succeed in striking this harmful language from the bill on the Senate floor next week. It is exactly the same language that got 48 votes last week. I don't know why anybody would change from now to then. Frankly, I think it's a possibility that we may get maybe one or two more.
WELNA: But a vote to remove the troop withdrawal language could be extremely close in a Senate where Democrats have just 51 members in their caucus, and one of them is Lieberman. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin says it takes only a simple majority to change the bill.
Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): A motion to strike the language in the Senate bill is 51 votes. That's where you don't know if it has that many votes or not. But even if it's stricken from the Senate, we got to conference, we may adopt the House language in conference. And then of course when a conference report comes back, that's either up or down.
WELNA: Still, it's a long shot for the troop withdrawal requirements ever to become law, given the veto threats. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that the war-spending bill will be taken up Monday, and that it won't be easy.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): We'll have a tough week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; Friday perhaps.
WELNA: It's not clear whether that bill will be finished before a ten-day Easter recess.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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