Defying President George W. Bush's veto threat, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill providing new war funds while setting a timeline for the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by March 31 next year.
By a mostly partisan vote of 218-208, the Democratic-led House narrowly approved the $124-billion emergency spending bill, ignoring Bush's promise to veto any bill that sets deadlines for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
The Senate is expected to approve the legislation on Thursday, sending it to Bush for what would be only his second veto in more than six years as president. "Tonight, the House of Representatives voted for failure in Iraq and the president will veto its bill," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Democratic Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has led efforts to end the war, said it was "ironic" that Bush will be sent the bill on Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of the president's speech aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier emblazoned with a banner claiming "mission accomplished" in Iraq.
The House vote came hours after the U.S. commander in Iraq came to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on the status of the war, a briefing the White House hoped would bolster support.
But Democrats were not swayed. "This bill gives the president the exit strategy from the Iraqi civil war that up until now he has not had," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman
David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat.
Democrats, emboldened by public discontent with a four-year-old war that some hoped would last only a few months, used the funding bill to attach an Oct. 1 deadline for the Pentagon to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Unlike an earlier version the House passed last month, this bill would not set a firm date for all U.S. combat troops to leave the war. Instead, a nonbinding March 31 date for finishing the withdrawal merely would be a "target."
But Republicans said any timetables for withdrawal would handcuff U.S. military leaders and encourage enemies in Iraq.
"We can walk out of Iraq, just like we did in Lebanon, just like we did in Vietnam, just like we did in Somalia and we will leave chaos in our wake," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.
After briefing lawmakers on the war, General David Petraeus told reporters that there had been progress in reducing sectarian murders in Baghdad and getting religious groups to work more cooperatively in Anbar province.
But the general said Al Qaeda had dealt some serious blows. "The ability of Al Qaeda to continue horrific sensational attacks obviously has represented a setback," he said.
About $100 billion of the $124-billion bill would be used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, including Bush's ordering of about 30,000 more troops to Iraq to try to stem the violence which has engulfed much of the country. The money would be on top of $70 billion already appropriated by Congress for war this year.
Democrats want to use the rest of the $124 billion for domestic programs, ranging from more health care for poor children and veterans to helping farmers recoup weather-related losses.
The Democrats' bill would allow some U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond March to continue training Iraqi soldiers, protect U.S. facilities and to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions.
There are about 146,000 troops in Iraq now with more on the way as part of Bush's troop buildup. More than 3,300 U.S. troops have been killed since the war began in 2003 with many more Iraqi soldiers and civilians dead.