US war spend tied to pullout

In a mostly party-line 51-47 vote, the senate signed off on a bill providing $US123 billion ($A152.


92 billion) to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It also orders Mr Bush to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days of passage while setting a non-binding goal of ending combat operations by March 31, 2008.

The vote came shortly after President Bush, in a move that his aides said was unprecedented, invited all Republicans from the House of Representatives to the White House to appear with him in a sort of pep rally to bolster his position in the continuing war policy fight.

"We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we've got a troop in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded," President Bush said, surrounded by Republicans, "and we got commanders making tough decisions on the ground, we expect there to be no strings on our commanders."

"We expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people's money," he said.

The Senate vote marked its boldest challenge yet to the administration's handling of a war, now in its fifth year, that has cost the lives of more than 3,200 American troops, more than 50,000 Iraqis and more than $US350 billion ($A435.13 billion). In a show of support for the president, most Republicans opposed the measure, unwilling to back a troop withdrawal schedule.

"We have fulfilled our constitutional responsibilities," Sen. Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic majority, told reporters shortly after the vote.

If President Bush "doesn't sign the bill, it's his responsibility," Senator Reid said.

In a show of support for the president, most Republicans opposed the measure, unwilling to back a troop withdrawal schedule despite the conflict's widespread unpopularity.

"Surely this will embolden the enemy, and it will not help our troops in any way," said Sen. Richard Shelby.

While Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that setting timelines for withdrawal would hamper U.S. commanders in Iraq, he said Thursday that the debate on Capitol Hill has "been helpful in bringing pressure to bear" on the Iraqi government. He said it has made clear to the Iraqis that "there is a very real limit to Americans' patience."

Mr Gates also said he was disturbed to hear one of his military officers say it will be late in the year before they have a good idea how well the latest Baghdad campaign is going. He said he hopes that Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, will be able to make that evaluation by midyear.

The House, also run by Democrats, narrowly passed similar legislation last week. Party leaders seem determined that the final bill negotiated between the two chambers to send to Bush will demand some sort of timetable for winding down the war – setting them on course for a veto showdown with the president.

"We've spoken the words the American people wanted us to speak," said Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid. "There must be a change of direction in the war in Iraq, the civil war in Iraq."

"The Senate and the House have held together and done what we've done," he told reporters. "It's now in his corner to do what he wants to do."

In a letter to President Bush, the House leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Reid had said earlier: "This Congress is taking the responsible course and responding to needs that have been ignored by your administration and the prior Congress."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president respected the role of Congress – and Congress should respect his.

"I think the founders of our nation had great foresight in realising that it would be better to have one commander in chief managing a war, rather than 535 generals on Capitol Hill trying to do the same thing," she said. "They're mandating failure here."

The legislation represents the Senate's first, bold challenge of Mr Bush's war policies since Democrats took control of Congress in January.

With Senate rules allowing the minority party to insist on 60 votes to pass any bill and Democrats holding only a narrow majority, Reid previously had been unable to push through resolutions critical of the war.

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