WASHINGTON – The House and Senate are moving forward on emergency spending bills that would finance the war while bringing the troops home at the same time.
Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a $121 billion version of President Bush's emergency war spending request, but bucked the White House by putting in language that sets a date-specific timeframe for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
The Senate bill sets a March, 31, 2008, goal for withdrawing all combat troops out of Iraq. The legislation, which also gobs on billions in special projects at home, now heads to the Senate floor for a vote by the full chamber.
"I think the only way we can succeed in Iraq is by fundamentally changing the dynamic," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees military funding.
Meanwhile, the House started debating a similar $124 billion measure. It calls for troop withdrawals this fall at the earliest and September 2008 at the latest, depending on whether the Iraqi government passes an oil distribution law, approves new provincial and local elections and undertakes other reforms.
Both the House and Senate measures would allow non-combat troops to remain in Iraq for the purposes of training Iraqi security forces and protecting American diplomats and assets. Fewer than half the roughly 140,000 troops in Iraq are combat forces.
President Bush had previously issued a veto threat because of the add-ons.
"It is unfortunate that the Senate is wanting to delay vital funds for our troops by producing a bill that mirrors House legislation that will never become law, attempts to tie the hands of our military commanders and is a Christmas wish list of non-war related spending add-ons," said Sean Kevelighan, spokesman for the White House budget office.
Speaking during a meeting with his Iraqi civilian reconstruction teams on Thursday, Bush urged Congress to approve the bill soon.
"The Congress owes you the money you need to do the job, without any strings attached," he said. "Congress needs to get their business done quickly, get the monies we've requested funded and let our folks on the ground do the job."
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a strong warning to Congress, saying troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan could be affected if lawmakers fail to approve the emergency war spending bill by mid-April. Congress goes on a recess next week for Easter.
"If the supplemental is not passed by April 15th, the service will be forced to take the following kinds of actions. One, curtailing and suspending home station training for reserve and guard units. Two, slowing the training of units slated to deploy next to Iraq and Afghanistan. Three, cutting the funding for the upgrading and renovation of barracks and other facilities that support quality of life for troops and their families. And fourth stopping the repair of equipment necessary to support pre-deployment training," Gates told reporters.
One month later — by May 15 — Gates said the Army would have to consider further cuts to equipment repairs; delaying or curtailing combat brigade training, which would extend the tours of combat troops currently on the front lines; delaying the formation of new combat forces; and starting a civilian hiring freeze.
"This kind of disruption to keep programs will have a genuinely adverse affect on the readiness of the Army and the quality of life for soldiers and their families," Gates said.
The Senate bill includes about $96 billion directed toward the war effort, with most of the remaining money left for domestic efforts. Both the Senate and House bills contain a number of non-war-related measures — such as hurricane relief and farm subsidies — that could gain support among doubters, but have opened their supporters to criticism of supporting politically unfavorable earmarks.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow attacked a number of the items Democrats attached and critics blast as pork-barrel measures, and said the House and Senate bills need to move along.
"The money is running out, and meanwhile you have people on Capitol Hill trying to buy or cajole votes for a bill that's not going to pass. The speaker is busy working some of her members, and they're also trying to twist some arms," Snow said.
"If you want to support our troops, get them the money they need when they need it," he added.
So far, at least one Democrat who did not join his colleagues last week in voting for the stand-alone legislation has said he will vote in favor of the appropriations bill. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said the new language spelling out benchmarks the Iraqi government must meet has satisfied his concerns.
Despite the favorable Senate committee vote, final passage in its present form seemed unlikely because a 60-vote threshold is needed to break a Republican filibuster. And the fate of the House measure also was uncertain even as debate began late Thursday. A vote in the chamber was put off Thursday while Democratic leaders tried to gain support.
Anti-war liberal Democrats in the House said they may reject their party leaders and join Republicans in opposing the bill, though for different reasons.
"This is not going to go anywhere," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., who wants legislation to end the war immediately. "So if you're going to be symbolic, be bold."
But some of Woolsey's colleagues say it's not that easy. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he feels the heat from voters who do not want another penny to go toward the war.
"But I'm thinking about if the bill fails, what happens?" Cummings said. "If the bill fails, we start from scratch."
. In a closed-door meeting, former President Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, tried to convince party skeptics that the bill was their best chance at ending the war.
But Democrats must also face down liberal anti-war activists who are complicating the matter by staging protests on Capitol Hill. Staging a sit-in at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Capitol Hill office, the protesters asserted that Democrats who vote for the legislation will now "own the Iraq war."
FOX News' Major Garrett and Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.