WASHINGTON – An ugly fight continued to take shaped Wednesday on Capitol Hill as House Democratic leaders planed to bring a $50 billion emergency war funding bill to a vote even though it had little chance of passing either through Congress or beyond President Bush's desk.
The bill, at first expected be taken up in the morning, remained under wraps well into the afternoon, and leaders didn't expect to start voting until past nightfall.
The so-called "bridge" funding bill — named so because it would temporarily span the gap in the budget to pay combat costs in Iraq and Afghanistan — is Democrats' latest attempt at trying to force Bush to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by next December. The bill also would place more restrictions on the administration over interrogation techniques.
Despite favorable political conditions for Democrats, including a waning Republican president racking up financial and human war costs, the House and Senate Republican caucuses appear resolute in their efforts to stop the bill.
FOX News has learned that Republicans will seek to use a powerful procedural tool that has succeeded in the past to strip out unwanted draw-down and interrogation provisions.
Also, key Democrats are not falling in lockstep with their leadership and could oppose the measure as too restrictive at a time when the military appears to be making headway in Iraq in bringing greater security to Baghdad and outlying tribal regions.
Nevertheless, top Democrats said late Tuesday they were going to forge ahead with the bill in what appears to be as much policy hard-lining as political gamesmanship.
"We, as Democrats, are committed to change the course in Iraq to ensure this doesn't happen. We're going to continue doing everything we can, working together as a legislative branch of government," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, speaking to reporters at conference to outline a Democrat-sponsored report on "hidden" war costs.
"Bringing our troops home will be good for our military, but it'll also be good for the American taxpayer. We cannot afford this war. $12 billion a month? We just can't — we can't continue," Reid of Nevada added in support of the funding bill. "This bill has $50 billion in it. If the president is not willing to take that with some conditions on it ... then the president won't get his $50 billion."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland agreed.
"We believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe we need to change policy. We believe the majority of the United States Senate believes we ought to change policy. And we would hope that Senator (Mitch) McConnell would let that view be reflected in a democratic way on the floor of the United States Senate," Hoyer said of the Senate's top Republican.
Adding support to Democratic leaders' stance, a group of antiwar lawmakers announced Wednesday they would support the bill — which could help House Democrats' chances at overcoming Republican efforts to stop the bill. And another heavy-hitting Democrat, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, threw his weight behind the bill.
House Republican leaders plan to use what has become one of their most powerful tools to stymie Democrats, the "motion to recommit." The procedure can be used under House rules to amend any bill and send it back to committee for reconsideration, putting the measure on ice, and often rendering it dead on arrival.
The motion needs a simple majority — 218 votes — to pass, which is possible if enough Democrats start to worry about facing angry military-supporting voters.
Republicans are seeking what the president has called a "clean bill" that only provides money, with no strings attached.
GOP House leaders took pot shots at their colleagues across the aisle in the lead-up to Wednesday's vote, which they expected to defeat.
"Look at the headlines," House Minority Leader John Boehner said, alluding to new success stories out of Iraq. Democrats "are trying to assure failure in Iraq."
And the No. 2 House Republican, Roy Blunt of Missouri, made light of the numerous Democratic attempts to force troop withdrawals.
"Democrats never get tired of foregone conclusions. This is the ultimate legislative 'Groundhog Day,' " Blunt said, making reference to the comedic farce starring Bill Murray as a man forced to repeat the same day over and over again.
"They're going to continue to try (to move the Iraq issue), and we will try to move a clean supplement for the war," Blunt said.
The bill's prospects in the Senate are even gloomier. The bill would face a certain veto from the president's desk should it make it that far, which is an unlikely scenario because of the party break-down in the Senate. There, Democrats number 51 but controversial bills need 60 votes to pass.
Reid sidestepped questions Tuesday on what would happen should House Republicans prevail in stripping Democrats' provisions from the bill. Asked if he would take up that bill, he said, "I'm not promising anything at this time."
"We'll have to see what they do. I feel confident they will send us the bill with the strings on it. If they don't, we'll take a look at — whatever the House sends us, I have great respect for the House of Representatives, having served there. And we will take up whatever they send us on the Iraq war or anything else, and do our best to move it down the road," he added.
But as part of a push to show how Congress is "broken" under Democrats' leadership, McConnell, the Senate minority leader, on Tuesday expressed boredom with efforts to pass the "bridge" bill
"I would say there will be minimum enthusiasm in my conference for passing the kind of bill on troop funding that we think the House is going to pass tomorrow. We'll have to wait and look at it. But if it is the kind of bill I anticipate it will be, it's not going to pass in the Senate this week," McConnell said, speaking with reporters.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., appearing with McConnell, said that Reid's plan "is not the will of this Congress, which has now had over 60 votes on Iraq funding and withdrawal. And it's very clear that the American people want us to succeed. They would like for our troops to be able to come home, but not in a losing cause."
Just Tuesday, two key Senate Democrats — Carl Levin of Michigan and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut — said they oppose the leadership's plan.
Levin said he would like to see the withdrawal language pass, but recognized the difficulty in getting that through the Senate. "There ought to be the funds there so the Pentagon doesn't have to reprogram money (in the defense spending bill)," he said
Coming out even more strongly, Lieberman said: "Unfortunately, congressional opponents of the war have responded to the growing evidence of progress in Iraq not with gratitude or relief, but with unrelenting opposition to a policy that is now clearly working. ... Anti-war advocates in Congress have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of retreat and defeat in Iraq."
The spending bill would give the administration $50 billion in response to the Bush administration's $196 billion spending request, first sent to Congress this spring.
The bill would require troops to begin withdrawing from Iraqi within 30 days of the bill's passage.
The bill also would set a target completion date for withdrawal of Dec. 15, 2008, and require remaining troops to shift from a combat role to only to protection of remaining forces, protection of U.S. diplomats and limited Iraqi security force support and counterterror operations. The bill also would place some requirements on equipment and training before troops could be deployed.
Another provision unlikely to gain Republican support is a requirement that would ensure all U.S. government agencies abide by Army Field Manual on Interrogation provisions. The field manual prohibits waterboarding — a form of interrogation that simulates drowning and is seen by many as a form of torture.
The provision is specifically targeted at the CIA, which is known to have used waterboarding on captured terror suspects, including Al Qaeda leader and Sept. 11 plotter, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. The administration has said the interrogation revealed information used later to foil other terror plots.
Success Even in Failure?
But there is a chance that the bill's failure could, in the end, turn into a Democratic political success.
Congressional aides have told FOX News that should the bill fail, and the $50 billion end up being tied up in partisan gridlock, that would leave the Pentagon to try to find the needed combat money in the appropriations bill Bush signed Tuesday.
Due to appropriations rules, the aides said, the Pentagon's budget would lock in sometime in February, meaning that to get more money for the war, Congress would again have to take up a war spending bill.
That would place the legislative calendar for the next war spending bill squarely in the middle of the presidential primary season, allowing Democrats to loudly ring the war bell.
FOX News' Chad Pergram, Trish Turner and Jim Angle contributed to this report.