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Much of the debate in the nation's capital this week centers on a bill that may never become law. It's a measure to fund the war in Iraq. It's a bill that sets dates for U.S. troops to withdraw. It's legislation President Bush has promised to veto. And it's an indicator of deep divisions over the war in Iraq.
The Senate votes on the plan today, and NPR's Brian Naylor was listening last night as the House approved it.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The debate came after one of the worst periods for U.S. casualties in the war, including the deaths of nine members of the 82nd Airborne this week, the unit Pennsylvania Democrat Patrick Murphy served with when he was in Iraq.
Representative PATRICK MURPHY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Now we have nine more paratroopers to add to this list. Mr. Speaker, how many more suicide bombs must kill American soldiers before this president offers a timeline for our troops to come home?
NAYLOR: The timeline the Democrats have proposed calls for U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by next spring, a non-binding goal. It does say, however, unless the Iraqi government meets a set of benchmarks, those troops would have to begin coming home as soon as this July. California Republican David Drier belittled the bill, also known as a conference report.
Representative DAVID DRIER (Republican, California): This conference report implements a policy of failure. It is nothing more than a cheap attempt to score political points at a time when the American people have, understandably, become very weary of war.
NAYLOR: Another Republican from California, Jerry Lewis, said the bill sends a bad message to American adversaries.
Representative JERRY LEWIS (Republican, California): Al-Qaida will view this legislation as the first sign of the United States backing down from its commitment to the war on terror. It will view the withdrawal provisions contained in this conference report as America signaling retreat and surrender.
NAYLOR: The 218 to 208 vote was largely along party lines, and it came a few hours after General David Petraeus held a closed-door briefing for lawmakers about the situation in Iraq. That briefing clearly changed few minds, as the outcome of Wednesday night's vote was nearly identical to the vote on a similar measure a month ago.
General Petraeus met with the reporters after the briefings. He said he had had what he called a number of good exchanges with lawmakers. He said there has been a one-third reduction in sectarian murders in Baghdad from January. But Petraeus said the news was not all good.
General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, Multinational Force Iraq): Having said that, the ability of al-Qaida to conduct horrific sensational attacks obviously has represented a setback. It's an area in which we are focusing considerable attention, as you might imagine.
NAYLOR: Asked whether he urged lawmakers to refrain from approving a withdrawal timetable, Petraeus said he did not want to get into the minefield of legislative proposals. In the debate last night, Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania said what is happening in Iraq was not the military's fault.
Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): This war has been so mismanaged that we have the responsibility to force the White House to be accountable. The policy is not set by the military. The policy is set by the White House, and we have to hold the White House accountable for the mistakes that they have made.
(Soundbite of applause)
NAYLOR: The White House issued a statement labeling the legislation disappointing, and called on the Senate to quickly approve the measure so it can be sent to the president for his promised veto.
Senate approval is expected later today, and the measure could be on the president's desk early next week.
After Congress tries to override the veto, an unlikely prospect, the hard bargaining begins over what form a war-funding bill acceptable to both sides will take.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, The Capitol.
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