Defying a presidential veto threat, the House of Representatives voted to partially fund the war in Iraq: $43 billion in emergency funding now and another $53 billion in July, if President Bush can show progress.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Thursday evening's vote, 221 to 205 in favor of the bill, "the end of a blank check for the president's war without end."
House Republican leader John Boehner called the bill to "ration funding" for US troops irresponsible and "dead on arrival."
Mr. Bush's veto threat, along with opposition to the bill from many Senate Democrats, means that the House war-funding measure - its second in as many weeks - has no chance of becoming law. But it moves Congress closer to a negotiation between the House and Senate over the president's $96 billion emergency request.
Indeed, there are signs that Congress and the White House are moving toward a compromise on the war-funding request, which has been pending on Capitol Hill for more than three months.
Ahead of Thursday evening's vote, Bush called on Congress to fully fund the troops and to give Gen. David Petraeus's plan a chance to work. "Time is running out, because the longer we wait, the more strain we're going to put on the military," the president said after a Pentagon briefing on Thursday morning.
In a nod to an emerging consensus on Capitol Hill, he also reaffirmed that it is important for the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks, including a national oil law, provincial elections, a new de-Baathification policy, and a review of the Iraqi constitution..
"One message I have heard from people of both parties is that benchmarks make sense, and I agree," Bush said.
In a separate vote, the House also approved $4.5 billion in spending for agricultural and other emergency assistance. That's pared down from $20 billion in the first House war-funding bill, which also drew a presidential veto threat. Eighty Republicans joined all but five Democrats in voting for this additional spending, which passed the House 302 to 120. House Democrats hope these funds will be included in a final version of a war-funding bill in concert with the Senate – or some other legislative vehicle.
Despite misgivings over the course of the war in Iraq, all but two House Republicans rallied around the president to oppose the latest House bill. In a private meeting with Bush on Tuesday, 11 moderate Republicans warned that the war is undermining prospects for GOP candidates in the next election.
However, for now, Republicans are united around the principle that Congress should not micromanage the troops, says Rep. Adam Putnam (R) of Florida, who chairs the House Republican Conference.
There was more disunity on the Democratic side, as House leaders allowed for the first time an up-or-down vote to withdraw US troops and contractors from Iraq within nine months. The measure failed by a 255-to-171 vote. But it drew support from 169 Democrats and two Republicans - more than its sponsors had predicted - including Speaker Pelosi and Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. But majority leader Steny Hoyer and Rep. Ike Skelton (D) of Missouri, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, opposed the bill.
"All this talk about benchmarks is a diversionary tactic by the administration to keep making war," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D) of Washington, on the eve of the vote. "A war with benchmarks is still a war." He added: "Last November the American people elected Democrats for one reason above all others: to get US soldiers out of Iraq and get Americans out of the Iraq war."