WASHINGTON - A fight between the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush over the Iraq war is set to come to a head this week when Democrats are expected to send him $100 billion to pay for continuing combat while setting timetables for withdrawing troops.Bush has promised to veto any bill setting dates for removing U.S. combat soldiers from the Iraq war, now in its fifth year.
But when a Democratic-controlled panel of Senate and House of Representatives members meets on Monday to iron out differences between their respective bills, the product is expected to contain 2008 withdrawal dates.
Many lawmakers have been speculating those dates might be nonbinding, as sketched out by a Senate-passed bill.
"The longer we continue down the president's path, the further we will be from responsibly ending this war," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who on Thursday said the war in Iraq was "lost."
The Nevada Democrat, who called for a change of course in Iraq, made his remarks during a week in which he and Bush traded barbs and as violence and killings in Iraq again spiked.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who holds a Democratic leadership position in the House, said final touches on the Iraq war language ought to be finished by this weekend. That will be the basis for Monday's work session on the bill.
Last month, the House approved a bill setting a September 1, 2008, deadline for all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq. The Senate's softer approach calls for some troop withdrawals this year leading to a nonbinding goal of having most of the 146,000 soldiers leave Iraq by March 31, 2008.
Nearly all Republicans in Congress voted against the deadlines.
In recent days, however, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said Congress' debate on deadlines was helpful. In Baghdad on Thursday, he also told Iraqi leaders that the United States cannot indefinitely commit troops.
The full House could vote on Wednesday on the controversial war-funding bill, the same day Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is due to brief senators in a closed session.
Democrats say they are uncertain what will happen after Bush vetoes their war money bill. They know they will have to produce another bill to fund the troops in the war zone but they are split over what conditions they can attach and still win Bush's signature.
Liberal Democrats, who want a quick withdrawal from Iraq, hope their leaders will keep the pressure on Bush by giving him only enough money to conduct the war for another two months or so, instead of for the next six months.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, said "in two months it might be really clear" that Bush's 30,000-troop increase was not succeeding in quelling sectarian violence.
She said her hope was that subsequent Iraq funding bills "could be used to bring the troops home."
But that view is opposed by more moderate Democrats, who at least for now do not want Congress meddling too much in Bush's handling of the war.
© Reuters 2007.