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Deal Near on Iraq Funding

House Democratic leaders were still tinkering with a $100 billion-plus Iraq War spending bill Tuesday, but largely have settled on a measure that puts several conditions on the president’s use of the money while seeking to draw support from wavering Democrats and Republicans by allowing votes on multiple amendments and including money for veterans’ care.

Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), a member of the Progressive Caucus opposed to further funding the war, said Democratic leaders presented “nuanced changes” to Democrats at their regular full Caucus meeting, but that “no firm language” has been shown to the Members yet.

Indeed, one House Democratic leadership aide said that while broad principles in the measure are largely settled, “This bill is like being pregnant — you either are or aren’t. It is either done or not. And it’s not yet done.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) met with leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of letting them have a vote on an amendment to fund only the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but not further combat missions.

Hoyer did not propose a quid pro quo that would have progressives voting for the final bill once their amendment fails, as is likely, said Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), who attended the meeting.

Instead, Woolsey said Hoyer simply asked, “‘How many Members do you think could vote [for] the amendment and then for the supplemental?’ and we said there would be some. … There are many that are going to vote ‘yes’ and ‘no.’”

Indeed, Capuano said he and other progressives might be more inclined to vote for the war funding bill if they were first allowed to vote for the withdrawal amendment.

“It certainly would make my life easier,” he said.

But Woolsey and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said they would not vote for the war supplemental no matter what amendments were allowed.

“It’s the president’s responsibility to pass his [war] budget. Let him make the concessions that will get him the votes,” said a defiant Nadler.

Not all Democrats want to have a vote on the progressives’ amendment, however. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) indicated that voting on the amendment would present a problem for himself and others in the Caucus.

“I would hope we would not” have a vote on the amendment, Moran said.

Capuano said some Democrats have complained that a vote on the amendment would send mixed messages and expose the fractures between those who support continuing to fund the war with conditions and those who want to pull out now.

“It’s a legitimate concern that you don’t want to chop up the Caucus too much,” Capuano said.

Still, Moran predicted that by today or Thursday Democrats would have “one bill with one clear message” that will demand accountability from the Bush administration on how it is conducting the war.

He said the principles laid out in Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) plan to require the president to certify that troops have the equipment and training they need before deployment would be included, along with the ability for the president to waive such requirements and language intended to make sure that the Iraqi government meets the benchmarks for taking over that Bush laid out in January.

“We have a bill. It’s just a matter of explaining it” to wavering Democrats, Moran said. “When Members fully understand it, I think we’ll have substantial support in the Caucus.”

Hoyer also acknowledged that Democrats are inclined to include language regarding the possible expansion of military actions into Iran.

“I expect language on Iran in the bill,” Hoyer said, noting that the president must seek Congressional approval to declare war. “I think it’s the only constitutional position that Congress ought to take.”

But Hoyer, who acknowledged in a separate press briefing that the schedule for the supplemental bill had been pushed back, said he now expects to complete work this month.

“We want to take action before we leave here for the Easter work period,” Hoyer said.

While continuing to court fence-sitting liberal and conservative Democrats, Democratic leaders also were beginning to put pressure on Republicans, saying the bill had been slightly refocused on providing troops with equipment and training as well as on veterans’ medical care — including money to shore up Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, whose alleged substandard outpatient care has caused an uproar on Capitol Hill.

“Republicans are starting to feel the pressure on the supplemental and after all the posturing, they’ll have a decision to make — support the troops or support the president,” said one well-placed House Democratic aide. “There are some things in there that are going to be very, very tough for Republicans to vote against.”

Meanwhile, centrist Republicans said they also are split on how to approach the vote and are anxiously awaiting the Democrats’ proposal.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said members of the centrist Tuesday Group were “talking about it,” but that it would be “incredibly important how Congressman Bill Young (R-Fla.) goes … because he has extraordinary influence among Republicans across the ideological spectrum.” Young is the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and current ranking member on the panel’s subcommittee on Defense.

Talking to reporters Tuesday, Young declined to say how he would vote on the supplemental because he had not seen final language. However, Young has not ruled out voting against the bill, and he has said he expects the GOP leadership to oppose the bill if any restrictions are placed on the White House.

Like Kirk, moderate Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) said he also was undecided about whether to support the supplemental, and said he wants to see what Democrats produce.

But Castle said he assumes that Democrats “will work it out so that they have the votes in [their] Caucus” to pass the bill, so that they are not forced to rely on GOP votes.

Even House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) made some noises Tuesday that suggested Republicans are reluctant to vote against the supplemental, while also taking some partisan shots.

“We want to work with Democrats to find a way to support troops on the ground,” Boehner said at a Tuesday morning press conference. But even as the Minority Leader called for bipartisanship, he asserted that the Democrats’ “goal is to defund the war in Iraq. … We are not going to put handcuffs on our soldiers and our generals in the field.”

While Democrats believe that most Republicans will be hard-pressed to vote against the supplemental, not all moderate Members who supported the Democratic resolution on the Iraq War in February have indicated they are ready to join Democrats again.

“Let’s see what it says, but my instinct is we’re not going to let [Democrats] micro-manage the war,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). “Democrats will have to look to their own Caucus to pass this.”

Despite ongoing negotiations, however, Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) — who made an “impassioned” plea for unity during the weekly meeting, according to one lawmaker in attendance — asserted Tuesday that the majority does largely agree on the basic structure of the supplemental bill.

“There is consensus in the Caucus on these three building blocks,” Emanuel said.

Capuano similarly sought to emphasize harmony on the overall proposal, stating: “Everyone understands that this is a situation that is fluid. … I think [our leaders] are actually doing a pretty good job in a very difficult situation.”

Susan Davis contributed to this report.

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