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US Senate Approves Iraq Spending Bill With Troop Withdrawal Timeline

The U.S. Congress and the White House have moved a step closer to a major confrontation on Iraq. The Senate has passed a war funding bill that includes wording on a troop withdrawal. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports President Bush says he will veto the legislation.

The final Senate vote (51-47) was largely along party lines, with majority Democrats declaring victory.

Only two Senate Republicans - Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon - voted for the bill, which sets a goal of moving U.S. troops out of Iraq in about a year.

The legislation must now be reconciled with a version passed earlier by the House of Representatives, which mandates a pullout by the end of August of 2008.

President Bush has said any bill that contains a timetable for withdrawal is not only unacceptable, but a formula for disaster.

Shortly before the Senate vote, he met at the White House with all the Republican members of the House of Representatives - the first such meeting of the Bush presidency. They consulted behind closed doors, and then appeared as a group before cameras - the House members closing ranks around the president.

"We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we have got a troop in harms way, we expect that troop to be fully funded," he said. "And we have got commanders making tough decisions on the ground, we expect there to be no strings on our commanders."

But Democrats remain unmoved, and are vowing to press forward despite the threat of a presidential veto. Patty Murray of Washington State led the drive to pass the bill in the Senate.

"We are taking a major step forward in saying that we are no longer going to idly stand by without any debates, without any discussion, without any consequences and move continuously to increase the war in Iraq," she said. "We have said it is time for us as a nation to tell the Iraqi people they need to stand up for themselves."

Senate Republicans fought the bill to the last, warning that valuable time is being wasted, as the Pentagon waits for the money needed to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They said Democrats do not have the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, and are pushing the bill to make political points.

Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama said by passing the bill, the Democrats have named a "date for defeat."

"We have taken a step backwards. We have put an arbitrary deadline on our military. It is the wrong message at the wrong time," he said. "Surely this will embolden the enemy. It will not help our troops in any way. It is a big mistake."

Moments after the Senate vote, a panel was named to begin negotiations with the House to reconcile their two different versions of the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects the compromise that will go to the president will include language on a troop pullout, despite his promised veto.