After a nearly four-month standoff between the Democratic-controlled Congress and the White House, the House and Senate passed a war funding bill Thursday evening that does not contain timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The overwhelming majority of House Democrats voted against the bill, even those Democratic leaders who introduced the legislation to be voted upon -- a tacit acknowledgement that, at least in this round of wrangling, President George W. Bush won.
In the Senate, the bill passed overwhelmingly, 80-14, though three of four Democrats running for president -- Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Barack Obama, D-Ill. -- were in the minority voting against funds for the wars.
"This vote is a choice between validating the same failed policy in Iraq that has cost us so many lives and demanding a new one," Obama said in a statement. "And I am demanding a new one."
Clinton, in a statement, said she voted against the legislation "because it fails to compel the president to give our troops a new strategy in Iraq."
She said she wished President Bush "had followed the will of the people and signed the original bill we sent which both funded the troops and set a new course of phased redeployment."
But the no vote was not the mainstream Democratic view. Indeed, of the 16 sitting senators who voted against going to war to begin with, 11 voted to provide funds for U.S. troops Thursday evening.
"Though I loathe this decision to fund the war, I will not take out my feelings against the troops in the field," said Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who voted against authorizing use of force in Iraq in October 2002. "Our soldiers should never be bargaining chips in this debate."
Durbin was joined by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chair of the Armed Services Committee, who also voted against going to war nearly five years ago.
"I cannot vote to stop funding our troops who are in harm's way," Levin said. "It is not the proper way that we can bring this was to an end. It is not the proper way that we can put pressure on Iraqi leaders."
Clinton and Obama felt differently, though the decision was apparently not easy. Neither would discuss the vote before it was cast. Both were among the last dozen or so to vote; Obama slipped in quietly onto the Senate floor at close to 8:45 p.m., said hi to some colleagues, approached the desk, quietly said "No," and left.
Only seconds later, Clinton did the same.
In addition to providing $95.5 billion in funds for troops in Iraq and Afganistan, the bill contains provisions largely based on language written by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., which sets 18 benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. If the Iraqi government does not meet those benchmarks, President Bush can choose to penalize the government by withholding aid.
"I think this is significant and sends a very strong message to the Iraqi leaders that the status quo is not acceptable," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
The bill also provides some other emergency agricultural funds and contains a federal minimum wage increase previously passed by both the House and Senate.
Despite their victory, there was little, if any, public crowing by Republican leaders.