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Inside Politics

House, Senate pass war funding bill

Story Highlights

• Senate vote was 80-14; House vote was 280-142
• Bill funds military operations -- mostly in Iraq -- through September
• White House says Bush will sign the bill without ceremony
• Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama voted against the measure
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress sent a $120 billion war spending bill to the White House late Thursday, abandoning a call for most U.S. troops to leave Iraq after an earlier veto by President Bush.

The bill replaces the earlier goal of withdrawing U.S. combat troops by March 2008 with a series of political benchmarks for Iraqi leaders to meet in order to receive continued American support.

But the move sharply split the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, where 140 members -- including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- voted against the plan.

In the Senate, leading Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama were among the 14 members who opposed the measure. (Watch lawmakers discuss their views on the bill Video)

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the bill still represented a step toward bringing the four-year-old war in Iraq to an end.

"We have repeatedly forced our Republican colleagues in the Senate and in the House to debate and vote on where the people stand with respect to the president's failed Iraq policy," said Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.

"And with each step we have taken, the pressure on the president and his Republican allies has grown."

Bush will sign measure

Bush vetoed an earlier version of the bill, arguing the pullout date would mandate an American "failure" in Iraq.

But he agreed to sign the revised measure, telling reporters Thursday that Iraqi leaders must "show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice." (Watch Bush say he will sign the bill Video)

About $100 billion of the money will fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the rest of the budget year, which ends in September. The White House had said the money was urgently needed, and congressional leaders had promised to complete the bill before leaving for a Memorial Day recess.

"We should remember, as we return home to our families this weekend, that thousands of American men and women will be fighting for us far away from their homes," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "The very least we can do for them this Memorial Day is to give them the tools they need to stay in the fight."

The bill also includes the first increase in the federal minimum wage since 1997, bringing it up $2.10 an hour to $7.25. And it provides about $20 billion in domestic spending, ranging from money for veterans' health care and hurricane reconstruction to drought relief for farmers and money for state-run children's health insurance programs.

The president is expected to sign the bill without ceremony, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Thursday's votes capped more than three months of often-impassioned debate that continued up to the final passage. Pelosi, a California Democrat, said the call for benchmarks -- which originated with Senate Republicans and can be waived by the president -- was a "fig leaf" that would fail to change the course of the widely unpopular war. (Read about the tough spot the Dems faced with Iraq bill)

"I'm really glad that they finally admitted that there's a need for accountability, but what they haven't done is met that need with something appropriate," she said.

Opposing votes want stronger bill

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina harshly criticized the legislation.

"Washington failed America today when Congress surrendered to the president's demand for another blank check that prolongs the war in Iraq," Edwards said in a statement.

"Congress should immediately use its funding power to cap troop levels in Iraq at 100,000, stop the ongoing surge and force an immediate drawdown of 40,000 to 50,000 troops, followed by a complete withdrawal in about a year."

Democratic Rep. David Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, joined Pelosi in voting against the bill. But he said it was at least a "step forward" in efforts to bring the war to a close, and that stronger bills did not have the votes to pass the Senate.

"That may not be a pleasant fact, but it is a reality," said Obey, D-Wisconsin. "Opponents of the war need to face this fact, just as the president and his allies need to face the fact that they are following a dead-end policy, which we'll continue to make every possible effort to change."

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders vowed to continue pushing for an end to the war when the Pentagon spending bills for 2008 come up later this year. But House GOP leader John Boehner said Congress needed to provide the money for U.S. troops to continue to fight the "terrorists" in Iraq.

Boehner, of Ohio, choked back sobs as he invoked the al Qaeda terrorist network's 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. (Watch Boehner fight back tears Video)

"After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died, when are we going to stand up and take them on?" he said. "When are we going to defeat them? Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, if we don't do it now, and if we don't have the courage to defeat this enemy, we will long, long regret it."

The independent commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks found "no credible evidence" that Iraq collaborated with the Afghanistan-based al Qaeda. But Islamic militants loyal to the terrorist network have taken root in Iraq since the U.S. invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The measure sets out a list of 18 steps for the Iraqi government to meet to keep U.S. reconstruction aid flowing, and requires Bush to submit reports in July and September to show what steps have been taken.

Also, the bill explicitly states for the first time that U.S. forces would leave Iraq if asked by the Baghdad government.

But critics said the benchmarks are meaningless, because the president can waive them at his discretion.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, said Democrats won control of Congress last year because of their opposition to the war, and called the compromise "a failure."

"This is the first real turn in the wrong direction in several months. I regret it, and I think it's a big mistake," Feingold told CNN's "American Morning."

The vote put many prominent Democrats in an awkward position -- risking repercussions from anti-war activist groups like if they supported the bill, but opening themselves up to Republican charges that they aren't supporting U.S. troops if they opposed it.

Clinton, the current front-runner in the Democratic presidential field, told reporters after the vote that "nobody believes" claims that she and other Democrats do not support U.S. troops.

"I've been trying to get the administration to change course and engage in what I believe would be more effective actions in Iraq, and they haven't done it," she said. "You know, at some point, you don't want to keep going on with it."

Sen. John Warner speaks at a news conference Thursday after the passage of the war funding bill.


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