The defense policy bill approved this week by the Senate is by no means a “vote of no confidence” in President Bush’s conduct of the Iraq war, as some Democratic critics claimed. But it is hardly the “positive step” Bush said it was.

Instead, the GOP-led Senate is unmistakably beginning to put distance between itself and the White House on Iraq and is signaling that it plans a more active role in the conduct, both reflecting the unease the lawmakers feel with the direction of events.

The Senate rejected, and rightly so, a Democratic attempt to require the Bush administration to set “estimated dates” for withdrawal from Iraq. That would only give the insurgents a timetable for how long they have to hang on. The measure lost, 58-40, but it is a pretty good indicator of impatience with Bush’s position that we’ll stay in Iraq indefinitely if need be.

The Senate then voted, 79-19, to require the administration to give Congress progress reports on the war every 90 days. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, Congress already gets thousands of reports on Iraq, but again, the Senate is indicating that it intends to be more aggressive in demanding an accounting of Iraq policy. To which one might add: Finally.

But perhaps more significant than the reports was the language of the resolution. It designated 2006 as “a period of significant transition to Iraqi sovereignty … thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq.” In other words, telling the president, “You’ve got one more year to show us you’re getting this thing done.”

The resolution is absent from the House version of the defense bill, and the House Republican leadership may succeed in getting the language killed from the final version. But even there rumblings of discontent with the war are getting louder, and the president can no longer count on lockstep Republican support on the war.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)