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Iraq Transition

House passes new war funding measure

Story Highlights

House OKs $40 billion to fund war through July
• President Bush said earlier he would veto the bill
• Bush to seek common ground with Congress on benchmarks
• Bush, GOP leaders attend 'candid and frank' talk about frustrations with war in Iraq
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $96 billion war spending measure, despite a veto threat from President Bush.

The bill, passed 221-205, would send the Pentagon about $40 billion up front to fund U.S. combat operations into July.

Additional funding would be dependent upon progress in the four-year-old war, based on a review of how well the Iraqi government was meeting a series of benchmarks. (Watch Republican deride bill as 'Act 2 in a melodrama' Video)

Earlier, Democrats narrowly beat back a Republican amendment that would have lifted the restrictions in the bill. Rep. John Murtha, a leading critic of the war, said the amendment would have removed any leverage the bill would give the United States over the shaky Iraqi government.

"We've got to put some pressure on them," said Murtha, D-Pennsylvania. He added, "Every time Iraqis don't do something, Americans are put in the killing zone."

Republicans, however, called the plan ill-conceived. House Minority Leader John Boehner accused Democrats of pushing a bill that would "bring failure in Iraq."

"The president of the United States has made it clear that he will veto this bill. The Senate leaders, Democrat and Republican, have made it clear that this plan has no chance in the other chamber," said Boehner, R-Ohio. "Yet here we are, playing political games while our troops are fighting for our freedom and our safety in Iraq."

Unlike the bill Bush vetoed on May 1, this measure sets no timetables. Earlier Thursday, the House voted down a Democratic proposal to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 180 days.

The war funding measure will now be sent to the Senate, where Republican and Democratic leaders have been trying to work out a compromise with the White House. Bush on Thursday vowed to veto any bill with "haphazard" funding.

"The idea that the House of Representatives put forward is one that we will fund our troops by piecemeal," he said.

The administration has said it wants to see a bill that funds the war through September, the end of the budget year.

The additional troops requested by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, won't be in place until the middle of June, when the fifth and last brigade arrives. Three additional American brigades, totaling about 12,000 troops, have taken up positions and are conducting operations. The fourth American brigade of reinforcements just entered Baghdad and its surrounding towns, Bush said.

"My message to the members of Congress is, 'Whatever your beliefs may be, let's make sure our troops get funded. And let's make sure politicians don't tell our commanders how to conduct operations. Let's don't hamstring our people in the field.' That's my message," the president said.

Bush open to benchmarks

The new bill sets a series of standards for Iraq's fledgling government to meet in order to receive continued American support. Bush said Thursday that he thinks setting benchmarks would be a good way to evaluate progress in Iraq.

The president said he has asked his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, to find common ground with Republicans and Democrats in Congress on benchmarks.

The president made his remarks after a meeting at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace and Joint Chiefs members.

In the past, the Bush administration has opposed timetables with consequences attached.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, welcomed the president's willingness to set benchmarks, but added that "simple benchmarks without any consequences" would not be enough.

"In addition to fully funding the troops, Congress believes the best way to change course in Iraq is to redeploy our forces from Iraq; refocus the mission of the remaining forces on security, training and counterterror operations; launch a diplomatic, economic and political offensive; and hold Iraq accountable, including meaningful benchmarks for the Iraqi government and security forces -- and consequences if they do not," he said in a written statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, echoed Reid in a written response to Bush's remarks.

"The president has long said he supports benchmarks; what he fails to accept is accountability for failing to meet those benchmarks. Benchmarks without consequences and enforcement are meaningless, a blank check," the statement said.

The Bush administration has asked for more than $95 billion to pay for the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of which would go to Iraq.

Bush, GOP lawmakers hold 'candid' talk about Iraq

The president's remarks about benchmarks come two days after he and other high-level administration officials met with a group of 11 GOP lawmakers to talk about their frustrations with the war in Iraq and its possible political ramifications.

White House spokesman Tony Snow, who attended the meeting, said that while "there were a wide range of views" expressed, not all of the participants lashed out at Bush. He also cautioned against elevating the significance of the meeting, noting that Bush has numerous meetings with lawmakers in both parties.

One source who attended the meeting, which was first reported by NBC News, said lawmakers "were candid and frank and said they needed results by September because their constituents were worried," although the source said the sentiment was no different than what Republicans have been saying in public and during previous White House meetings.

Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, told Bush that without positive results soon in Iraq, his district will be prepared for defeat, the source said.

A senior GOP lawmaker told CNN that Boehner brought the members down to "speak directly with the president" and the "members were matter-of-fact about what they said to him."

Administration officials at the meeting included Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove.

CNN's Ed Henry, Dana Bash and Ted Barrett contributed to this report

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