Dems offer spin to explain loss to Bush

Sen. Hillary Clinton (AP)Democrats may have lost the first round with President Bush on ending the war in Iraq since taking over Congress in January, but they say their fight has just begun.

In the months ahead, lawmakers will vote repeatedly on whether U.S. troops should stay and whether Bush has the authority to continue the war. The Democratic strategy is intended to ratchet up pressure on the president, as well as on moderate Republicans who have grown tired of defending Bush administration policy in a deeply unpopular war.

"I feel a direction change in the air," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House panel that oversees military funding.

Democrats looked to the upcoming votes after losing a bruising battle with Bush on an emergency war spending bill. Lacking the two-thirds majority needed to overcome another presidential veto, Democrats dropped from the legislation a provision ordering troops home from Iraq beginning this fall.

Congress passed the revised $120 billion spending bill on Thursday, providing $95 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September. The House voted 280-142 to pass the bill, followed by a 80-14 vote in the Senate.

Democratic leaders said they hoped to ready the bill for Bush's signature by this Memorial Day weekend.

Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama both voted against the bill.

"I fully support our troops" but the measure "fails to compel the president to give our troops a new strategy in Iraq," said Clinton, D-N.Y.

"Enough is enough," Obama, an Illinois senator, declared, adding that Bush should not get "a blank check to continue down this same, disastrous path."

Their votes continued a shift in position for the two presidential hopefuls, both of whom began the year shunning a deadline for a troop withdrawal.

Thursday's legislative action capped weeks of negotiations with the White House, which agreed to accept some $17 billion more than Bush had requested as long as there were no restrictions on the military campaign.

"If all funding bills are going to be this partisan and contentious, it will be a very long year," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.

Democrats said they were successful in moving the war debate forward and would try again when Congress takes up spending bills for the 2008 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

"This debate will go on," vowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"Senate Democrats will not stop our efforts to change the course of this war until either enough Republicans join with us to reject President Bush's failed policy or we get a new president," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.

The Senate will go first when it considers a defense policy bill authorizing more than $600 billion in military spending. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to offer an amendment that would order troop withdrawals to begin within 120 days.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said he would press to repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing combat in Iraq.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said Thursday that if the security situation in Iraq does not improve by mid-July, the president should consider adopting a new strategy there.

"It seems to me it's time for them (Iraqi troops) to … step up," said Warner, R-Va.

The most critical votes on the war are likely to be cast in September when the House and Senate debate war funding for 2008. The House plans to consider one measure that would end combat by July 2008 and another intended to repeal Bush's authority to wage war in Iraq.

The September votes likely will come after Iraq war commander Gen. David Petraeus tells Congress whether Bush's troop buildup plan is working. Also due by September is an independent assessment of progress made by the Iraqi government.

"Those of us who oppose this war will be back again and again and again and again until this war has ended," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

The U.S. has spent more than $300 billion on Iraq military operations so far, according to the congressional Government Accountability Office.