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Consensus Slow to Build on Iraq Supplemental

As House Democratic leaders continue their attempts to craft a supplemental spending bill that limits the Iraq War while continuing to fund it, both liberal and conservative Democrats signaled that they might be willing to be team players if leaders accommodate them in small ways. [IMGCAP(1)]

As of Monday evening, the chances of committee action on a bill this week were slipping away and it was unclear whether House Democratic leaders would include language, first proposed by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), to restrict in some way the president’s ability to deploy troops to Iraq unless he publicly acknowledges that he is sending troops into combat without meeting certain readiness requirements.

However, one House Democratic leadership aide indicated that the bill most likely would include a provision requiring the president to report to Congress on whether the benchmarks he set out for the Iraqi government are being met. And there were other indications Monday that House Democratic leaders were considering language requiring the president to seek Congressional approval for any military action against Iran.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) huddled with her leadership team Monday afternoon in an attempt to manage the competing forces within the party and devise a $100 billion-plus war spending bill that could be ready for floor action as early as next week.

On his way into the strategy session, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the decision on how or whether to try to rein in the Iraq War was “a moving target, but we may come to a consensus. That’s why we keep talking.”

Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said he believes “that on the core pieces, we have a Caucus consensus.”

He said Democrats broadly agree that any “conditionality” on the president’s use of funds should be focused on getting the Iraqi government to take over many of the operations currently being performed by U.S. soldiers.

Emanuel said a majority of Democrats believe that more money should go to the war in Afghanistan because “that’s where al Qaida is.” In fact, several Democratic sources indicated that appropriators had decided to shift some funds from the Iraq conflict to the re-emergent terrorist elements in Afghanistan.

Emanuel also said Democrats are committed to making sure the troops “have all the funding and equipment they need.”

Even if a consensus is forming, it appears less likely that the overall bill will be ready for committee action this week. Because the limitations on war funding are not the only unresolved issues in the bill, House Democratic sources said it appeared increasingly unlikely that a draft would be ready by the end of today. That means that a possible Friday markup would be out of the question, considering House rules that require three days between a bill introduction and committee consideration.

Having the committee markup next week would put a significant time crunch on House leaders, but they could always waive the three-day waiting period for bills that come out of committee and are headed for the floor, sources indicated.

Additionally, the White House threw a wrench into the works Monday by indicating that it would send up a modified request for war funds as early as today, according to The Associated Press. The AP noted that the new request likely would be about $2 billion more than the nearly $94 billion for the Iraq War requested earlier this year and would specifically fund the president’s controversial plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.

Still, Democratic leaders appeared to be getting a little breathing room within the Caucus on Monday, as liberal Members began indicating that the House leadership could mitigate defections from the left by allowing a vote on an amendment to require the Pentagon to use the $100 billion to withdraw troops from Iraq and not for further combat missions.

One knowledgeable House Democratic aide said members of the Progressive Caucus might be more inclined to vote for the war-funding bill if they first were allowed to vote against such funding, considering that the amendment to fund a withdrawal is almost certain to fail.

“I think you’d see more sort of accommodation,” said the aide, who noted that some liberals would still end up voting against the bill. “There are a certain number of Members who’ve never supported a supplemental for Iraq.”

The Progressive Caucus has set up its own whip operation to find out where its 71 members stand on Iraq War funding and the proposals being floated by members of the Democratic leadership, the aide said.

“We feel this is an opportunity to flex our muscles,” the aide said.

Meanwhile, conservative Democrats, particularly those in the Blue Dog Coalition, may be willing to swallow some limits on the president — with a waiver — if the leadership also adopted the language of their manifesto for providing accountability for the ballooning costs of the war.

Blue Dogs have introduced a resolution that would demand periodic reports from the Defense Department inspector general and the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction on how the nearly $400 billion already appropriated for the war has been spent.

The resolution also calls for the creation of a commission to conduct ongoing studies of government contractors in Iraq, insists that war funding should be conducted through the regular appropriations process, and asks the Bush administration to condition any further U.S. “financial, military and political resources” on the Iraqi government taking over police duties in country.

While noting that the Blue Dog Coalition as a whole has not taken a position on whether to set conditions on war funds, one aide to a coalition Member said including the resolution in the supplemental would “go a long way to making [the bill] a lot more palatable.”

With Republican leaders threatening to whip against the supplemental if it includes any sort of funding restrictions — even those with a presidential waiver — Democrats can afford to lose only 15 of their own on the vote or risk seeing the bill fail in a highly public House floor vote.

In the meantime, Democratic leaders cautioned that language limiting the president on Iraq was not the only issue unresolved on the bill, given that Democratic leaders decided to include additional funding for hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast, for agriculture disasters and for a shortfall in poor children’s health care programs.

”It’s a major piece of legislation, and there’s a lot of t’s to cross and i’s to dot,” said one senior House Democratic aide.

And details of the bill remained under wraps Monday.

“We won’t be releasing any details until we have a final package, and we don’t have a final package,” said Kirsten Brost, spokeswoman for House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).

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