WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Republicans surprised their Democratic counterparts Tuesday by agreeing to hold a full-fledged debate on a Democratic bill that would quickly end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said his members oppose the bill.
But he added they welcome the debate because it will "give us a chance to talk about the extraordinary progress that's been made in Iraq over the last six months, not only on the military side but also with civilian reconciliation finally beginning to take hold."
Sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and supported by the Senate Democratic leadership, the measure would cut off funding for combat operations 120 days after enactment.
Democratic leaders had expected GOP senators to block debate on the bill by voting against a procedural amendment. Similar measures have failed repeatedly, and this current version is also not expected to pass.
Senate Democratic leaders complained that Republicans agreed to the lengthy debate because they want to stall the next bill scheduled for Senate action: A Democratic-authored measure to help people facing foreclosures because of the mortgage crisis.
"They're scared to death of this housing bill, "said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois. "They don't want to face the vote and they don't want their presidential candidate to face the vote before the Ohio primary."
Republicans disputed the charge, arguing they firmly oppose a provision in the housing bill that would let bankruptcy courts restructure mortgages on primary residences and want it removed from the bill.
The debate on Iraq could unfold over the next several days and could include a host of related amendments.
Democrats said they were considering amendments on troop readiness and a provision jointly sponsored by presidential rivals Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton aimed at preventing President Bush from entering into a long term agreement with the Iraqi government.
Republicans said they are considering their own amendments but don't know if the Democratic majority will allow them.
Obama and Clinton have supported Feingold in the past. Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain issued a statement opposing the bill.
"Should we ignore the signs of real progress in Iraq and legislate a premature end to our efforts there, the Congress would be complicit in all the terrible and predictable consequences that would ensue." E-mail to a friend