JUDY WOODRUFF: The Iraq story in two capitals. We begin with a report from NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman.
KWAME HOLMAN: The message from the White House today was unequivocal: House Democrats again are pursuing a war funding bill that the president will not accept.
At a congressional hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained why, telling members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that partially funding the war through July, as House Democrats are proposing, is not the way to finish a war.
ROBERT GATES, Secretary of Defense: The impact on the Department of Defense, in terms of disruption and canceled contracts and programs, would be huge if we had to do that.
KWAME HOLMAN: The biggest problem, he said, was the plan to have Congress vote again in mid-summer to release the remaining money, but only if conditions on the ground in Iraq have improved.
ROBERT GATES: We will have forward-spent so much money to keep the troops in the field by that time that the truth is, if that vote were to be a no, I would have to shut down significant elements of the Department of Defense in August and September, because I wouldn't have the money to pay salaries. So a no vote in July would have dramatic consequences.
In essence, the bill asks me to run the Department of Defense like a skiff, and I'm trying to drive the biggest supertanker in the world. And we just don't have the agility to be able to manage a two-month appropriation very well.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senators from both parties agreed that a short-term funding plan was not an ideal solution, but there also was little tolerance on the panel for funding the war beyond this fall. Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), Pennsylvania: There's a sense here, certainly by the Democrats and growing among Republicans, that there has to be some progress, significant progress to sustain it beyond September.
KWAME HOLMAN: Gates acknowledged that a critical reevaluation of the war will take place in September, when General David Petraeus gives a much- anticipated progress report to President Bush. But the secretary also issued a stern warning against leaving Iraq too early, regardless of the progress.
ROBERT GATES: If we were to withdraw, leaving Iraq in chaos, al-Qaida almost certainly would use Anbar province as a place -- as another base from which to plan operations, not only inside Iraq, but first of all in the neighborhood, and then potentially against the United States.
Al-Qaida has actually expanded, I would say, its organization and its capabilities. So I think that, if we don't leave Iraq with some sense of stability, regardless of ongoing internal difficulties, then I think the problem we face will be significantly worse.
KWAME HOLMAN: Still, committee Democrats and Republicans made it clear that the Iraqi government's inability to get its own house in order ultimately may mean that U.S. troops are forced to leave behind a messy situation. Gates also was asked about reports earlier this week that the Iraqi Council of Representatives, a major governing body, might take off the entire months of July and August.
ROBERT GATES: I'll be blunt. I told some of the Iraqis with whom I met that we are buying them time for political reconciliation and that every day we buy them, we buy it with American blood, and that for this group to go out for two months, it would, in my opinion, be unacceptable.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, during Vice President Dick Cheney's surprise visit to Baghdad today, he urged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to meet their lagging commitments, including dividing oil revenues, rolling back de-Baathification, and revising the constitution to help reconcile Sunnis and Shiites.
DICK CHENEY, Vice President of the United States: I did make it clear that we believe it's very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion, and that any undue delay would be difficult to explain, and that we'd hope they would approach these issues with all deliberate dispatch, if I could put it in those terms. I think they're somewhat sympathetic to our concerns.
KWAME HOLMAN: Cheney spoke to reporters at the U.S. embassy just 30 minutes after an explosion just outside the Green Zone rattled windows and forced the traveling press corps into a secured area. Still, the vice president said conversations he had with various government officials convinced him security in Baghdad was improving.
DICK CHENEY: The impression I got from talking with them -- and this includes their military, as well as political leadership -- is that they do believe we are making progress.
KWAME HOLMAN: Stability in Iraq will remain the vice president's focus as he continues a five-nation tour of the region.