STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that we're replaying the Washington news from last month. The attorney general faces questions about firing prosecutors, same as last month. Last night, the House approved a spending bill to fund the Iraq war and the president says he will veto that legislation, just like he did the last one.
What's changed - and something has changed here - is the method that Democrats are using to try to force the war toward a conclusion.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: After the president vetoed an Iraq spending bill with a timetable for withdrawal attached, Democrats devised a new strategy: Send the White House a bill that would fund the troops but in two installments. The Pentagon would get some $43 billion now and $53 billion later if the Iraqi government met a set of benchmarks and if the House voted to release the funds in July.
Republicans belittled the proposal. Mike Pence of Indiana recently returned from a trip to Iraq and said progress is being made.
Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): Violence in al-Anbar province is coming down. Now is not the time for us to say we will do war on the installment plan and come back in 60 days and evaluate.
NAYLOR: Illinois Democrat Rahm Emanuel countered Pence with his own financial metaphor.
Representative RAHM EMANUEL (Democrat, Illinois): You may not like this installment plan, but we have tried for four years an approach of being a blank check - no oversight, no accountability, no questions asked.
NAYLOR: The funding bill was approved 221 to 205. The vote was largely along party lines, despite a growing restiveness among Republican moderates. They met with Mr. Bush two days earlier to express their increasing concerns about the political toll of the unpopular war on the Republican Party. But on the House floor, Democrat Jay Inslee of Washington argued neither party should be worried about politics.
Representative JAY INSLEE (Democrat, Washington): And I hope that some of my GOP colleagues the next time they go White House say we don't care about the GOP or the DEM, we care about the Army and the Navy and the soldiers who are being killed, and join the people (unintelligible) and get a timetable to get us out of there.
NAYLOR: Inslee was speaking in favor of a measure also considered by the House yesterday that would have ordered a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq to begin within three months and completed six months later. California Democrat Maxine Waters, chair of the Out-of-Iraq Caucus, said the Bush administration's policy isn't working.
Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): The search that the president has initiated is placing our soldiers at great risk. As a matter of fact, there is no safety in the Green Zone. As a matter of fact, we don't have friends in Iraq. The Sunnis are against us. The Shias are against us. The Kurds are against us.
NAYLOR: Republicans argue that a quick withdrawal from Iraq amounts to, as they put it, surrender. Republican Phil Gingrey of Georgia said the Democrats are being driven by what he labeled liberal agents.
Representative PHIL GINGREY (Republican, Georgia): MoveOn.org, the labor unions, the liberal bloggers - they have run out of patience, and it's them that demands a vote on our abandoning our mission, and abandoning it ASAP.
NAYLOR: The withdrawal bill was soundly defeated 255 to 171. While the Democrats' latest funding plan was approved, it's not going much farther than the House chamber. Not only did President Bush again promise to veto it, Senate Democratic leaders have shown no interest in the idea. They have yet to announce their strategy for funding measure, but it's safe to say it won't look much like the House plan.
President Bush yesterday did signal a willingness to compromise, saying he would consider a funding bill including some sort of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. But Democrats in Congress say benchmarks must be enforced. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted the president's No Child Left Behind legislation calls on schools to meet learning standards or else face a range of penalties.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): While holding America's school children accountable with consequences, the president refuses to hold the Iraqi government responsible with consequences while our young people in Iraq are dying.
NAYLOR: Still, Pelosi said she's looking forward to continuing her conversations with the White House.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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