ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This afternoon, Congress formally sent to the White House a $124 billion measure funding military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later today, the president is expected to veto the bill because it also requires that U.S. troops begin withdrawing from Iraq by October at the latest.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Today's stage craft is the latest act in a carefully plotted bit of political theater that's been running in Washington for months and shows no sign of closing any time soon.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat before a backdrop of American flags as they signed the spending bill, an unusual bit of ceremony that allowed them to again drive home their message that Democrats want out of Iraq.
Here's the speaker.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California: Speaker of the House): With the benchmarks to hold the Iraqi government accountable, this legislation respects the wishes of the American people to end the Iraq War. I'm pleased to sign this legislation which passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support.
NAYLOR: When it was his turn, Senate Majority Leader Reid said there was still time for the president to listen to the American people.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): As we know, the president has put our troops in the middle of a civil war. Reality on the ground proves what we all know a change of course is needed.
NAYLOR: The bill is going to the White House on the anniversary of the day four years ago that President Bush in his own bit of stage craft flew to the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and under a banner proclaiming mission accomplished declared major combat in Iraq to have ended. Democrats said the timing was coincidental. House Republican whip Roy Blunt of Missouri says it's time to end the stage craft.
Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): We want to move beyond the political theater and get down to the work that we're supposed to do, which is to fund the troops in the field and let them do the job that we've asked them to do.
NAYLOR: It's not clear what kind of legislation will emerge next. Some House Democrats led by John Murtha of Pennsylvania want to send the president a measure funding the war for just 60 days and make him come back and seek additional money later this summer. Others want to attach benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet to any funding bill. While that idea has been dismissed by the White House, it continues to draw interest from congressional Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Senator MITCH McCONNEL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): There are a number of Republicans who do think that some kind of benchmarks if properly crafted would actually be helpful. If you recall when General Petraues was here, he said he thought some kinds of benchmarks crafted appropriately would actually be helpful. So I think that is an area that we can talk about beginning tomorrow.
NAYLOR: President Bush will meet with congressional leaders tomorrow to open the next act in the Iraq funding drama - finding a measure that Democrats and the White House can accept.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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