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Top US Senate Republican wants quick action on Iraq; Democrats want troop withdrawal

The Senate's top Republican leader is calling on Democrats to hurry up with legislation calling for a troop withdrawal from Iraq - so President George W. Bush will veto it and lawmakers can get back to work.

"This bill is not salvageable," said Sen. Mitch McConnell. "It needs to be vetoed. It needs to come back to Congress very quickly and we need to get serious about providing the funds for the troops so we can win in Iraq, not give up."

Congress has just started vacation - one week for the Senate, two for the House. Both chambers passed measures last month that would provide more than $90 billion (EUR68 billion) to sustain military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, while setting conditions for a withdrawal of troops.

The Senate bill would require a troop exit to begin within 120 days, with a nonbinding goal of March 31, 2008, for its completion. The House version is more sweeping, mandating that nearly all combat troops pull out by Sept. 1, 2008.

Bush has promised to veto any funding legislation with timelines, saying imposition of a "specific and random date of withdrawal would be disastrous" for U.S. troops in Iraq. Before Bush can act, House and Senate negotiators must put together a compromise bill.

On Sunday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Bush is willing to talk with congressional leaders. But he said Democrats must act quickly - and be willing to back off restrictive timelines - because troop operations could be hurt if funding is not approved soon.

"What we haven't seen from this Democratic leadership is a willingness to drop this very restrictive language that basically substitutes the judgment of politicians here in Washington with the judgment of our commanders on the ground," Bartlett said.

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified that the Army "will be forced to consider" altering training schedules for reserves and units as well as delays in repairing equipment and renovating barracks if a funding bill is not passed quickly.

Senate Democratic leaders Dick Durbin and Joseph Biden said they will keep pushing for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq even if Bush vetoes the legislation calling for a pullout.

They said lawmakers had some time to maneuver with a compromise bill or a new measure that sets target dates for withdrawal. They cited a nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report that indicates the Army has enough bookkeeping flexibility to fund war operations until July.

Lawmakers and Capitol Hill staff aides view mid- to late May as the deadline for completing the war spending bill to avoid hardships.

"We want to come to an agreement as to how to move forward, to protect our troops but also start winding this war down, start bringing our troops home," said Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.

Biden, a presidential hopeful, agreed. "I think we'll end up doing what the Senate did, not what the House did, set a target date," he said. "You've got to change the mission to get a political solution. That's what we're saying."

Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat who is running for president in 2008, predicted that if Bush vetoes the withdrawal legislation, Congress will quickly approve funding for the war.

Obama suggested that Congress' only recourse is to mount public pressure in hopes of building a two-thirds majority that could override a presidential veto.

Biden and McConnell appeared on "Fox News Sunday," and Durbin and Bartlett spoke on ABC's "This Week."

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