When is a timetable not a timetable?
President Bush has said that any Iraq funding bill that contains a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal will be vetoed. So Democrats are contemplating a bill with a funding timetable of sorts, one that could be voted on as early as the end of this week.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders of the House and Senate are discussing a different sort of timetable -- a "patience" timetable, marking when GOP support for the president's unpopular war could begin to seriously erode.
House Democratic leaders face a serious challenge. They want to pass an Iraq funding bill without a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal, lest they find their bill vetoed again by Bush, yet they want to avoid losing the support of the dozens of anti-war liberals in their ranks. So -- with the goal of delivering to the president an Iraq funding bill he will sign by Memorial Day -- they aim to create a spending timetable of sorts, providing immediate funds to troops to keep operations going until the end of July and then requiring a second vote for more funding to continue after that.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is taking the lead in drafting the bill that would provide approximately $43 billion -- 45 percent of the bill's $95.5 billion -- to prevent any disruption of military operations through the end of July or beginning of August.
The second vote, on the remaining $53 billion, would then come after the Bush administration reports on benchmarks for progress the Iraqi government has met.
Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders in the Senate believe that bill could ever muster enough support to pass the Senate; aides suggest the House and Senate will pass different bills and hope to work out the differences in conference committee.
"That's a uniquely bad idea," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate Republican leader, in a conference call with reporters today.
McConnell added that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, had also told him they would never be able to get such a bill through the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to even vote on a bill.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley advises that his boss has ruled nothing out and that everything is on the table. But House Democrats say their Senate counterparts have advised them that the short-term funding bill would be next to impossible to get through the Senate.
"We ought to pass the entire appropriation and not chop it up into bits," McConnell said. "There's only a few months left in this fiscal year, anyway."
Democrats were eagerly embracing remarks by House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, that seemed to indicate there was a Republican timetable -- one not for the withdrawal of U.S. troops but for Republican support for the president's "surge" strategy.
"Over the course of the next three months or four months, we'll have some idea how well the plan's working," Boehner said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Early signs are indicating there is clearly some success on a number of fronts. But … by the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B?"
Democrats pounced on Boehner's remarks, suggesting his comments reeked of political expedience and crumbling support for the war in Iraq.
"It's clear Congressman Boehner's new timetable for Iraq has less to do with the troops coming home, and has everything to do with his fear that House Republicans will be sent home," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, R-Ill., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Over on the Senate side, Reid added that Boehner "now seems to be saying that he and his colleagues agree that there must be a time limit on the president's current course in Iraq. What's also revealing and somewhat disturbing is that the Republican Leader is willing to allow our troops to stay in Iraq with a failing strategy until he and his colleagues decide it's time to part with the president."
Monday, McConnell said he generally agreed with Boehner's remarks, though instead of the fall he said, "the time to take a serious look at where we are and what comes next is late summer"
Democrats and Republicans in both chambers advised that everything was in flux. Obey had not yet presented his bill to the Democratic leadership, though he was scheduled to meet with them Monday afternoon.
McConnell said he assumed he would meet some time this week with Reid, and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, though nothing had yet been scheduled.
ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf, Vic Ratner and Dean Norland contributed to this report.