Senate approves war spending bill, clears way for conference

Senate leadership aides say they are confident a deal can be reached with the House in a few days.

The Senate on Thursday approved a version of the war supplemental bill, paving the way for a conference committee to wrap up next week and keeping alive the hope of leaders from both parties that President Bush will be able to sign the measure before Memorial Day.

By a vote of 94-1, the Senate invoked cloture on a substitute amendment by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and then under a previous agreement passed the second Senate emergency supplemental bill by voice vote.

The measure, introduced earlier this year by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., stipulates that Congress and the president "will provide the necessary funds for training, equipment and other support for troops in the field" to "ensure their safety and effectiveness."

Senate leaders designated the bill as the Senate's conference vehicle after the White House threatened to veto an amendment by Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., which included a redeployment timeline and more stringent conditions for Iraqi economic aid but also gave the president the authority to waive the requirement. Levin withdrew his amendment following that veto threat.

Senate leadership aides said they are confident a deal can be reached with the House in a few days, even though the House bill would deliver the funding requested by Bush in two two-month installments, with the second installment hinging on another vote on U.S. policy in Iraq.

Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have said they are willing to work through the Memorial Day recess to complete work on the supplemental, if necessary.

In the House Thursday, Republican leaders complained that Democrats have yet to engage in real negotiations with the GOP to ensure a deal is made to get funding to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan before the recess.

"They have to sit down and they have not done that," said Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Also Thursday, President Bush offered support for including benchmarks for progress in Iraq in the supplemental, but he did not say whether he would support consequences for failure to achieve the goals. During a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush said he was optimistic that a deal could be completed before the recess.

"Now is the time to put forth a spending bill that doesn't have artificial timetables for withdrawal, doesn't micromanage the military, and is wise about how we spend the people's money," Bush said.

Christian Bourge contributed to this report.