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Pelosi Pushes for Clean Iraq Bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has executed an aggressive push to keep Democratic members of the Appropriations Committee in line as the panel takes up the $124 billion Iraq War spending bill this morning, while Democratic leaders prepare to whip the full Caucus next week.

“This is an unprecedented effort,” one Democratic member of the Appropriations Committee said of recent meetings convened by Pelosi and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense.

“She’s doing her job to get that bill passed.” the lawmaker added. The measure is scheduled to be marked up in the full Appropriations Committee this morning. “We’re not going to get every vote, but we’ll get it out of committee.”

According to several committee members, Pelosi has implored Democrats to produce a clean bill.

“If we want to move forward … then we have to stay together as a team,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said of the Speaker’s Tuesday meeting with appropriators. “The stronger it comes out of Appropriations, the better it will be.”

Several lawmakers stated, however, that no House leader has instructed Members to refrain from introducing amendments, or even to oppose the numerous amendments expected from Republicans, including measures that could remove significant portions of the bill, such as a specific withdrawal date from Iraq.

“No one has said ‘do not offer this’ or ‘do not offer that,’” said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), who sits on the Appropriations panel and stated that she does not plan to propose any amendments.

But one senior Democratic aide, who asked not to be named, said the message in Pelosi’s recent efforts should be clear to lawmakers.

“We’ve spent a lot of time, we’ve had dozens of meetings … and heard everyone’s ideas and perspectives. We’ve worked to craft a bill everyone can get behind,” the aide said.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said, “I don’t think the majority party is going to offer amendments.”

Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to offer numerous amendments of their own, including one from Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who said he will seek to strike a provision providing assistance to spinach farmers and will push to extend minimum-wage standards to tuna producers.

In addition, GOP lawmakers also may propose removing the “emergency” designation from other non-military, domestic spending items, which would require any increase in those funds to be balanced by reductions under “pay-as-you-go” guidelines.

The divisive and partisan debate over the supplemental funding bill has caused palpable tension on the clubby Appropriations Committee, a panel that has often forged bipartisan working relations in the past to fund the annual spending bills. “We’ve never seen this kind of division,” said Rep. David Hobson (Ohio), the seventh-ranking GOP lawmaker on the committee.

“Under different circumstances, [Defense subcommittee ranking member] Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Jack Murtha could come up with a bill we could all vote for,” Hobson said. “The White House may not like it, but we could do it.”

Another Republican member of the Appropriations panel, who asked not to be identified, asserted the committee process “has broken.”

“The committee, at the moment, has a partisan tone because Pelosi has told the Democrats they can’t work with us,” the lawmaker asserted.

But one Democratic aide rebuffed those assertions as simple animosity for the bill.

“It’s coming down to a choice for Republicans. … This is an opportunity to vote for a bill that would support our troops, end the war in Iraq and support our veterans here at home,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Hobson said, however, unless the date-specific troop withdrawal provisions and the presidential waiver authority language are removed, Republicans on the spending panel and the Conference will remain nearly united in opposition when the bill hits the floor.

Similarly, Young said he planned to vote against the spending bill in committee today unless the withdrawal date is removed. “We’re still trying to convince [Democrats] to take it out,” he added.

Despite their division over the measure following a recent meeting, however, the Florida lawmaker said he and Murtha remain on good terms: “We’re still friends but we just disagree.”

In the meantime, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) acknowledged Wednesday that the whip operation — now being used to “survey” lawmakers on their support for the bill — will be used when the spending bill moves to the House floor.

“We are getting ready,” Clyburn said.

At least one senior member of the whip team, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), stated Tuesday that she will not assist in any vote count on the measure, but it remains to be seen whether Democratic leaders will revoke her post for failing to toe the party line.

“The Speaker makes those appointments,” Clyburn said. A Pelosi aide said the Speaker had not discussed the matter.

In addition, Progressive Caucus members — who have called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops before the end of this year, rather than the 2008 date set in the bill — are continuing their own whip count on the spending bill.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said at least 15 lawmakers — including Democrats who are not Progressive lawmakers — will oppose the spending bill.

“This is not a game. We’re not holding our leadership out to dry. This is who we are,” Woolsey asserted Wednesday.

Progressive Caucus lawmakers intend to offer an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in the Rules Committee next week that would mandate the earlier withdrawal date.

One senior GOP lawmaker said that at this point 15 of the 17 Republicans who voted in favor of the Democrats’ Iraq resolution in mid-February appeared committed to opposing the spending bill in its current form.

Leadership sources have said they are prepared for GOP Reps. Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.) and Wayne Gilchrest (Md.), vocal opponents of the war, to vote with Democrats. However, those sources have indicated that at this point defections could be contained to single digits.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders continued to hold open the possibility of including their Iraq de-escalation resolution in their version of the supplemental war spending bill, which is expected to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee March 22 with floor action the following week.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said “no decision” had been made about whether to include such language in the supplemental, but a senior Senate GOP aide confirmed that Reid told Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to expect the language in the bill.

One thing that does not appear to be in dispute is that the Senate supplemental bill will contain nearly as much extra domestic spending as the House included. House Democrats have come under fire from Republicans not only for including language requiring an end to U.S. combat in Iraq, but also for adding more than $21 billion over the president’s original $103 billion request.

One Democratic Senator, who asked not to be named, said the Senate version likely would be “just a bit below [the House], but not much below.”

The Senator added, “It’s not just the president who has notions about what should funded.”

Indeed, Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) indicated in a statement Wednesday that he planned to include billions of additional dollars in emergency spending for a variety of domestic priorities, including veterans health care, poor children’s health insurance, agriculture disaster aid, homeland security upgrades and fighting wildfires. Most of those programs have been funded in the House bill as well, and both versions are expected to include billions to continue aiding Gulf Coast victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“In this legislation, we must not turn our backs to the emergency demands facing some of the most vulnerable in our society … ,” Byrd said in the statement. “We are faced with serious fiscal restraints. We will focus our resources on the nation’s most pressing emergencies and address remaining issues in next year’s funding bills.”

And there may not be a lot of blowback from Republican members of the committee.

Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who has been pushing to include Hurricane Katrina funds, said he would not object to some additional domestic spending.

“I think we ought to support the president’s request, but there may be a few things I’ll agree to add to that,” he said. He also warned that putting constraints on the president’s ability to wage the war in Iraq could unnecessarily delay the funding troops desperately need.

“What we really need to do is get busy and get it done,” Cochran said. “If we get into a long, drawn out battle with the White House, it’ll just make matters worse.”

Despite Cochran’s support for some extra domestic spending, other Senate Republicans indicated that McConnell and his leadership team likely would attack the add-ons in the supplemental.

The president’s request “shouldn’t be expanded by a quarter of the bill,” said one senior Senate GOP aide. “These things don’t need to be done in an emergency spending bill.”

Susan Davis contributed to this report.