United States President George W Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress are set on a collision course with both chambers seeking a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and the White House threatening a veto.
The Senate on Tuesday signalled support for a Mar 31, 2008 target date for withdrawing American combat troops by defeating by a 50-48 vote an amendment that would have stricken the withdrawal language from a $121.6 billion war-spending bill.
With the outcome in doubt, Vice President Dick Cheney was on hand in the Capitol in case he was needed to cast a tie-breaking vote. A final vote on the bill is expected this week.
"The president is disappointed that the Senate continues down a path with a bill that he will veto and has no chance of becoming law," said White House spokesperson Dana Perino after the vote as she cited "encouraging signs" in Iraq.
But Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid countered the White House veto threat, saying, "We would hope that the president understands how serious we are and the American people are and that, rather than making all the threats that he has, let's work with him" toward a compromise.
The Senate troop withdrawal vote came four days after the House passed its version of a war-spending bill setting a mandatory Sep 1, 2008, deadline for getting all US combat troops out of Iraq.
Under the Senate bill, which is still being debated, the United States would begin a phased withdrawal of troops this year with the goal, not the requirement, that it be completed by Mar 31, 2008. The upper chamber had recently failed to pass a similar, non-binding resolution calling for a troop withdrawal.
After the Senate passes the bill, House and Senate negotiators will try to work out a compromise, which is expected to contain a troop withdrawal timetable.
The bill then goes to the White House where Bush has threatened to veto it unless there is a deal. The Congress does not appear to have the votes to overturn Bush.
Senate Appropriations Committee's Democrat Chairman Robert Byrd said the US troop presence "is a catalyst for violence in Iraq and in the region." He noted that once the new funds are approved, Congress will have provided $448 billion for the war in Iraq.
But the former Republican chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, said, "It would be the bugle of retreat. It would be echoed and repeated from every minaret throughout Iraq that coalition forces have decided to take the first step backwards."
Two Republicans, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon, joined most Democrats in supporting the troop withdrawal goal. But Joe Lieberman, who won as an independent last November after losing the Democratic nomination to an anti-war insurgent, voted against.
Depicting the vote as a turning point, he said the effect of the timeline would be to "snatch defeat from the jaws of progress in Iraq."