The US Senate will have a chance on Wednesday to show whether it wants President George W Bush to start pulling combat troops from Iraq or if it prefers to continue funding the war with few or no new restrictions.
Senate leaders are orchestrating votes on four amendments, two Democratic and two Republican, in the hope of gauging support for the next steps in a war now in its fifth year and showing signs of losing support even among some conservative lawmakers.
The outcome of the votes on the amendments likely will effect negotiations between the House of Representatives and the Senate on an Iraq funding bill Congress is trying to send to Bush by the end of this month.
With existing war, funds are running low, the Senate on Thursday is expected to quickly pass an Iraq funding bill so that talks can begin with the House on the final product for Bush.
"We're going to finish this bill before leaving for the Memorial Day recess," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
The Democratic-led Congress has been tangling with Bush all year over the Iraq war. On May 1, Bush vetoed a $124 billion bill, mostly to pay for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, because Democrats included timetables for withdrawing troops.
"When you have a deadline for withdrawal, that's unacceptable," White House spokesman Tony Snow reiterated on Tuesday.
One of the Democratic amendments would pull combat troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. A smaller force would remain to do targeted counter-terrorism missions, help train Iraqi troops and protect US personnel who stay behind.
The House defeated a similar measure last week, but some supporters were heartened by how many votes it attracted.
"The House -- it was quite a surprising vote they had," Reid said, noting the 171 House votes for ending the war, out of 426 casts.
A second Democratic amendment gives Bush the war money he wants but calls for some troop withdrawals this year and a goal of completing the pullout by March 31. But unlike the plan Bush vetoed, the president could waive the withdrawal dates.
The White House on Tuesday refused to say whether that approach might be acceptable.
One Republican amendment simply calls on Congress to pass a troop-funding bill that Bush can sign, according to aides.
The other Republican amendment notes "a deteriorating problem of sectarian and intrasectarian violence" in Iraq.
With it, future US reconstruction money for Iraq would be tied to that government making progress toward stabilizing the country, and Bush would have to give Congress updates on the war in mid-July and mid-September.