Washington Democrats are considering their next step after President Bush's inevitable veto of their war spending proposal, including a possible short-term funding bill that would force Congress to revisit the issue this summer.
Another alternative is providing the Pentagon the money it needs for the war but insisting that the Iraqi government live up to certain political promises. Or, the congressional Democrats could send Bush what he wants for now and set their sights on 2008 spending legislation.
Options are being weighed as Bush and Congress head toward a showdown this week on his Iraq policy. House and Senate appropriations committees meet today to negotiate a final bill that, if approved by both chambers, could reach the president's desk as early as the end of the week.
Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the Iraq war, is expected to brief lawmakers behind closed doors as they cast their final vote.
The legislation is expected to fund the Iraq war but call for combat troops to leave, probably by March 31, 2008. Bush has promised to reject it, and Republicans say they will back him, leaving Democrats short of the two-thirds majority support needed to override the veto.
Setting an end date to the war before it's won "would be a death blow to forces of moderation throughout the Middle East," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Democratic leaders have been reluctant to discuss their next step, focusing instead on their ability to send Bush legislation rebuking his Iraq policy. But other lawmakers say there is no denying that Democrats do not have the two-thirds majority needed to override Bush's veto.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the House panel that oversees military funding, said he wants a bill that would fund the war for just two or three months. Before that second bill would expire in summer, Democrats would try again to pass legislation calling for an end to combat.
Bush has said the military needs more than $90 billion through September, most of which would finance combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Murtha's proposal would give Democrats time to try to rally support among Republicans growing increasingly frustrated with the war who have so far been reluctant to tie the hands of their GOP president.
The tact also would attract party liberals in the House who don't want to fund the war at all.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said she likes the idea of a limited funding bill because it keeps open the possibility that Congress will cut off money for the war this summer.
But that impression is precisely why such a plan would be difficult to pass in the House and likely sink in the Senate, where more conservative Democrats say they prefer other means to twist the president's arm.
Cutting off funding for the war is the "wrong message to our troops" and would fail, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Then "the defeat of an effort to cut funding would be used by the president as evidence of support for his policy," he added.
Accordingly, Levin said he would support legislation that would fund the war through September but insist the Iraqi government live up to its political promises.