RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The House of Representatives is expected to vote today on an emergency funding bill for the war in Iraq, a $124-billion spending bill that also sets a timeline for troop withdrawal. Democrats are closer to getting the votes to pass that bill. Last night, 10 previously uncommitted Democrats said they'll support the legislation. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate got their own war-spending bill past a major hurdle yesterday.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: The Senate emergency war supplemental spends $2 billion less than the House version, but it too has loads of domestic spending aimed at broadening support. Yesterday, as Senate appropriators took seats around tables in a huge hearing room to debate and vote on the measure, the panel's Democratic chair, Robert Byrd, had this stern message.
Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): It is our duty to debate the future of the war in Iraq.
WELNA: Byrd has fiercely opposed the war from the start, but he and his party's leaders are now in the tricky position of having to respond to President Bush's request for more than $100 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan, money the Pentagon says it desperately needs. Senate Democrats decided to provide all that funding and more.
The catch is it comes with strings attached. They put two conditions on the spending: a phased redeployment of U.S. troops 120 days after the bill's enactment, and a non-binding goal of having most combat troops out of Iraq by April of next year.
Hawaii's Daniel Inouye, who lost an arm fighting in World War II, was the Democrat's chief advocate for the bill.
Senator DANIEL INOUYE (Democrat, Hawaii): Mr. Chairman, I would like to suggest that this is a very balanced plan. It recognizes that we still have military responsibilities in Iraq, and we'll continue to do so even a year from now. But it will force the Iraqis to fight their own civil war if they insist on doing so.
WELNA: Just last week, the Senate rejected by a vote of 50-48 the Democrats' troop withdrawal timeline. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson is one of those who voted against it. But Nelson now supports his party's Iraq plan because benchmarks for progress have since been added.
Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): It seems to me that it is altogether different. The complexion is entirely different with the benchmarks included, as well as periodic reports from General Petraeus or whoever else might be the commander on the ground.
WELNA: But it was not enough to win over Republicans. Alabama's Richard Shelby moved to strike the troop pullout language.
Senator RICHARD SHELBY (Republican, Alabama): It will not help and it will actually hinder our service members and commanders in Iraq to succeed in the mission we sent them to accomplish. This language must be specific - withdraws our troops in 120 days. Four months, I believe, does not give General Petraeus our soldiers the chance to see if a surge in troop numbers could turn this war.
WELNA: And Missouri Republican Christopher Bond accused Democrats of imposing an arbitrary exit strategy.
Senator CHRISTOPHER BOND (Republican, Missouri): I do not believe that we in Washington can judge the conditions on the battlefield. I do not think it is fair to our troops who are in the field to establish a political deadline which is not related to the actual accomplishment or non-accomplishment of the objectives in Iraq.
WELNA: Democrat Inouye countered those charges playing down the significance of the target date.
Sen. INOUYE: Mr. Chairman, it is not a mandate but a goal of redeploying the remaining forces one year from now.
WELNA: Republican Shelby's attempt to remove the troop pullout language stalled. Senior Republicans had already agreed to defer votes on controversial amendments for the Senate floor because South Dakota Democrat and panel member Tim Johnson was still away recovering from brain surgery. Shelby reluctantly withdrew his measure.
Sen. SHELBY: But this is a debate. This is not going to go away. Whether it's here or on the floor, it just goes right to the heart of what we're doing.
WELNA: The panel passed the bill by a voice vote and it's now headed for debate on the Senate floor next week. Democrat Nelson says he'll try convincing some moderate Republicans there to endorse it as well.
Sen. NELSON: I think that's what I'm hoping to do, that they would get on at least with the benchmarks and not try to pull the benchmarks out.
WELNA: But Nelson said the troop pullout timeline may well have to go if the bill is to pass.
David Welna, NPR News.
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