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Iraq Transition

War-funding bill faces uncertain future in Senate

Story Highlights

• House OKs $40 billion to fund war through July, with progress report due then
• Prospects uncertain in Senate, where leaders are working on compromise
• Iraqi official in Washington cites progress, urges patience from Congress
• President Bush said earlier he would veto the House bill
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush might not get a chance to follow through on his vow to veto a $96 billion war spending bill passed by the House that would tie war funding past July to a progress report.

A 221-205 vote on Thursday sends the bill to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future as Republican and Democratic leaders try to work out a compromise with the White House.

The bill would send the Pentagon about $40 billion up front and require the Bush administration to report on the progress of the war -- and on the progress of Iraq's government in reaching a political settlement -- in July. (Watch Republican deride bill as 'Act 2 in a melodrama' Video)

Congress would then vote on whether to release the rest of the money, which the Bush administration says is needed to fund the 4-year-old war through the end of the current budget year in September.

"I don't want it to be said 50 years from now, 'What happened to America in 2007?,'" Bush said at a fundraiser on Thursday night.

"I see the impending dangers. I understand the consequences of this historic moment. And we will succeed in Iraq," he said.

Earlier, Democrats narrowly rejected 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."

But Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, in Washington on Thursday, cited progress back home and urged American lawmakers to have patience with the Iraqi government.

"Things are happening. And we need to walk this last mile of this long marathon. And we need the helping hand," he told CNN late Thursday.

A host of Iraqi political issues remain unresolved, including oil-revenue legislation, de-Baathification and constitutional reform. But al-Maliki said Iraqi lawmakers had agreed to scale back -- from two months to one -- a planned summer recess criticized by U.S. officials.

"We would like them to take one week in August only," he said. (Watch bickering amuse Iraqi speaker, end session Video)

Republicans called the plan approved by the House 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 war spending bill Bush vetoed May 1, the new measure does not set a date for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.

The House earlier in the day turned back a bill by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, that would have had U.S. combat troops leaving Iraq within 180 days.

Bush: No 'piecemeal funding'

After meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon on Thursday, Bush said he opposed any "haphazard, piecemeal funding" for the war.

"There's a lot of uncertainty in funding when it comes to two-month cycles," he said.

The new bill sets a series of standards for Iraq's fledgling government to meet in order to receive continued American support.

Bush said he agreed that setting benchmarks would be a good way to evaluate the war's progress, and has told White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten "to find common ground" with Democrats on the issue.

But Democratic leaders said the benchmarks must have teeth behind them for them to be of any use.

"The president has long said he supports benchmarks," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. "Benchmarks without consequences and enforcement are meaningless, a blank check."

Leaders from both parties have been working on a compromise in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority and where rules give the minority greater power to block legislation.

Bolten held a 40-minute meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Reid welcomed the president's willingness to set benchmarks, but added that "simple benchmarks without any consequences" would not be enough.

"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," he said in a written statement.

'No-holds-barred' GOP meeting

With U.S. war deaths now approaching 3,400 and the costs now projected to top $500 billion, the war has become increasingly unpopular at home. McGovern said the November elections that put Democrats in control of the House and Senate show that Americans "want the war to come to an end."

But Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, said the United States must continue to support the government of Iraq, which he described as "inept" but free.

"We're following the same pattern that we've followed for the past 60 years in bringing freedom to other parts of the world. It's not a smooth road," said Hunter, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a GOP presidential contender.

McGovern's bill died on a 171-255 vote Thursday afternoon. But just bringing that bill to a vote helped win support from anti-war Democrats who might have otherwise opposed more war funding.

While Democrat leaders are working to retain the backing of anti-war members, Republicans have publicly stepped up the pressure on the president for progress in Iraq.

Bush and other high-level administration officials met Tuesday with a group of 11 GOP lawmakers to talk about their frustrations with the war and its possible political ramifications.

"I don't know if he's gotten that kind of opinion before in such a frank and no-holds-barred way," said Rep. Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican. "But he was very sober about it, and he listened very intently." (Read more about the meeting)

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


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U.S. Marine Daniel Castrejon prepares to enter a home during a raid near Falluja.

SPECIAL REPORT

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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