The Senate will begin to debate an annual defense authorization bill Monday that promises to be a vehicle for lawmakers to express their discontent with the war in Iraq.
The debate is likely to be marked by a new offensive on the Iraq war, in the form of a a series of amendments from from Senate Democrats. The party's leaders are hoping their Republican colleagues who recently turned against the war will support the amendments.
Earlier this year, congressional Democrats stripped a troop-withdrawal timetable from a war spending bill that was vetoed by President Bush.
President Bush is not contemplating withdrawing forces from Iraq now despite an erosion of support among Republicans for his war policy, the White House said Monday.
The administration also tried to lower expectations about a report due Sunday on whether the Iraqi government is meeting political, economic and security benchmarks that Bush set in January when he announced a buildup of 21,500 U.S. combat forces.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said that all of the additional troops had just gotten in place and it would be unrealistic to expect major progress now.
"You are not going to expect all the benchmarks to be met at the beginning of something," Snow said. "You are hoping that you are going to be able to see progress in terms of meeting benchmarks from that beginning stage to what you see in two months."
But at the same time, he said that Sept. 15 is not "the drop dead date" by which everything should be completed.
Bush is under growing pressure even within his own party to shift course in Iraq as the war drags on and casualties climb. At least 3,605 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began in March 2003. Bush's approval rating in the polls has sunk to record lows.
From NPR and The Associated Press.