WASHINGTON—In a setback for Democrats' efforts to bring the Iraq war to an end, Congress approved legislation on Thursday that funds President Bush's request for nearly $100 billion for the war but attaches no demand for a withdrawal.
The bill was worked out in negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House. The House of Representatives passed it 280-142, and the Senate approved it 80-14. Now it goes to Bush for his signature.
The measure also adds $17 billion Bush did not request, including funds for military and veterans health and hurricane recovery, and increases the federal minimum wage.
Democrats have been struggling with the Bush administration over the withdrawal of most troops from Iraq for weeks. They plan to continue demanding changes in the months ahead.
By September, Congress will have fresh official reports on whether the troop increase is curbing violence there and whether the Iraqi government is making progress on national reconciliation.
The bill requires President Bush to report on Iraq by July 15 and again by Sept. 15. Reports in September also are due from Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.
And, in September the House also will vote on Bush's next request for more war funds.
Some moderate Republicans have said that September is when they expect to decide whether to continue to back the president's war plans. So far, all but a few Republicans in the House and Senate have supported the president on Iraq.
House Republican leader John Boehner's voice quavered with emotion as he called for the defeat of terrorists. "If we don't have the courage to defeat this enemy, we will long, long regret it," he said.
Boehner of Ohio said he supported the final bill because "we have no surrender dates. We have no shackles on our troops and on our generals on the ground."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking after Boehner and closing the debate, said that Democrats wanted to refocus U.S. efforts on the fight against terrorists.
"The American people don't think it's necessary for us to be a referee in a civil war in Iraq," she said. "They want our focus to be fighting terrorism, training Iraqis and protecting our diplomats and forces there, and that's exactly what we have proposed."
But Bush vetoed just that proposal—a war-spending bill that called for keeping forces in Iraq for those jobs but withdrawing others beginning by Oct. 1.
President Bush on Thursday said compromise measure "showed what's possible when we work together."
Congressional Democrats had to back off their demand for a withdrawal of most troops because they didn't have enough votes for the two-thirds majority to override a veto. Their own party was largely united, but they needed support from more Republicans.
If Democrats had continued to insist on a bill they couldn't get passed into law, they would have held up funds needed by troops at war.
"We are going to continue this new path for change," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Murray blamed Bush for holding up funding for the troops with his veto and said the new measure didn't go far enough toward ending the war. But she said she supported it because it was needed for "taking care of the best military in the world."
The anti-war group MoveOn.org, however, reacted angrily. "Voters elected this Congress to lead the country out of the mess in Iraq. The vote tonight was a failure to act on that mandate," the group said in a statement that threatened to target Democrats and Republicans who voted for the bill.
The American death toll in Iraq is 3,434, and more than 24,000 have been wounded.
Even with their main goal unmet, Democrats claimed some success.
The bill requires the administration to report on whether the Iraqi government has made progress on 18 economic, military and political reforms aimed at ending sectarian fighting and creating a representative government. If Iraq failed to meet these benchmarks, Bush could withhold reconstruction aid.
Bush said he would have vetoed the bill if he weren't given discretion to decide on whether or not to withhold the aid, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
The bill also requires an independent panel assess the readiness of Iraqi security forces.
In a separate 348-73 vote, the House approved $17 billion dollars in non-war spending, down from the $21 billion originally sought by Democrats. Among items the White House insisted be dropped was funding for pandemic flu preparations.
Bush and fellow Republicans earlier objected to the non-war spending. It includes $6 billion for hurricane recovery plus funds for drought relief for farms, health insurance for poor children, the war in Afghanistan, mine-resistant military vehicles, readiness of U.S. military forces still in the United States, homeland defense and military and veterans' health care.
The bill also increases the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, from $5.15 to $7.25 over two years.
The measures were voted on separately in the House, but combined in the Senate.
House Democrats were divided on whether the new spending bill was a blank check—something they'd vowed they'd never allow.
Hoyer said it wasn't because of the benchmarks. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said it was and voted against it. Pelosi also voted against it.