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House to Be Scene of Partisan Warfare This Week

Don’t be surprised if Congress leaves skid marks on the way out of town for the Memorial Day recess.

Though fatigue levels are high after six weeks of tense, uninterrupted work, the artificial deadline created by the planned break portends a frenetic pace this week as both parties seek to score a few political points before the break and try to cement a deal on the second — and possibly final — version of the supplemental Iraq War spending bill. [IMGCAP(1)]

With both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reluctant to spark another showdown with the White House, Democrats are likely to abandon their efforts to set specific timelines and

goals for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as part of the more-than-$90 billion supplemental measure. It was unclear as of press time whether they also will scrap much of the $20 billion-plus they originally had added for domestic priorities, such as Hurricane Katrina relief, agriculture disasters and homeland security priorities.

Democratic aides said on Monday that Reid and Pelosi likely would draft a beefed-up version of a Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) proposal that won 52 votes — including those of eight Democrats — in the Senate last week. The Warner proposal, which GOP aides said was written in consultation with the White House, lays out a series of political and security benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet and would allow President Bush to withhold reconstruction funding if they are not met. The plan also requires Bush to report to Congress in July and September on the Iraqis’ progress.

As of press time, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) was in talks with Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman, but Obey declined to discuss any of the specifics, as did other House Democratic leaders.

One Democratic aide explained: “They are still talking about how to move forward. … The bottom line is this will be a bill that Bush will have to sign that contains benchmarks and accountability — something unimagined two weeks ago.”

Though House leaders expected to unveil their latest proposal to rank-and-file Democrats last night, they canceled their Caucus meeting at the last minute in order to continue negotiations with the White House.

Though there was no deal Monday night, House Democratic aides said they already expect to lose support from some of their most anti-war members because of the expected absence of language either forcing or goading the administration to change the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Another aide said leaders expect to pass the bill “with mediocre Democratic support and a bunch of Republicans.”

That aide said passage of a bill without timelines still will be “a partial victory” for Democrats. Bush, the aide noted, “wanted something with no strings attached, and Republicans are definitely worse for the wear” following months and months of votes on the issue.

And keeping legislation to hike the minimum wage in the bill also will provide Democrats — particularly from the liberal wing of the party — with at least one complete victory to tout in their districts over the break.

Though bipartisanship could be the name of the game this week when it comes to Iraq, that definitely will not be the case on many other topics in the House this week, particularly on that chamber’s lobbying and ethics bill, which is due for a vote Thursday.

Republicans already have set the stage for a partisan vote later this week when the House will take up a motion by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) to reprimand Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for violating House rules.

Rogers introduced the privileged resolution Monday evening, but the vote was postponed and is expected to occur today or Wednesday. House rules require a vote within two legislative days on such motions.

Rogers is seeking a full House reprimand of Murtha for allegedly threatening to strip all of Rogers’ earmark requests for “now and forever.” Murtha purportedly made those statements on the House floor during votes Thursday, which was witnessed by several onlookers, including Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa). Murtha has declined to comment on the allegations.

Democrats are expected to offer a motion to table the resolution in an attempt to promptly end the debate, which likely will pass on a strict party-line vote.

The Murtha vote is likely to be followed in the House by other partisan shenanigans later this week, one House GOP leadership aide hinted.

“Given the fact that we’ve got a lobbying reform bill that’s light on reform and represents a ton of broken promises in and of itself, it would be safe to expect some interesting times on the floor this week,” the aide said.

The Senate, meanwhile, could be the shrinking violet when it comes to partisan warfare. It’s unclear whether a nonbinding resolution expressing “no confidence” in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will come to the floor this week, one Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

“It’s possible by the end of the week,” said the aide, who added that it is “not a certainty” that the Senate will take it up because of the effects such a move might have on the nascent bipartisan deal on immigration.

Indeed, pitting the two issues against each other could cause a clash between two powerful Senate Democrats — Caucus Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who has been pushing the Gonzales vote, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (Mass.), who was instrumental in brokering the bipartisan immigration bill.

Already it appears that the immigration debate will have to continue after the recess, given that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated Republicans would not support an end to the debate this week. That prompted Reid to say Monday that he expects to continue considering the bill in June.

But throwing in the resolution over whether Gonzales mishandled — and possibly used political calculations — in the firings of nine federal prosecutors last year would certainly upend the immigration bill’s consideration, said several GOP aides.

“If they want to do that this week, they’re going to shut down the immigration debate,” said one knowledgeable Senate GOP aide. The aide added that Democrats “have to look at what the silliness threshold in the Senate is. … It’s a nonbinding resolution to make people uncomfortable. We can draw up those kinds of things too.”

Indeed, McConnell hinted this weekend that Republicans may have their own resolution to offer if Democrats insist on moving forward on the Gonzales proposal. The knowledgeable Senate GOP aide said there has been talk of trying to get Senators on record opposing Reid’s remark a couple of weeks ago that the Iraq War is “lost.” However, the aide cautioned that the resolution likely would not mention Reid by name.

But getting an agreement to bring up the Gonzales resolution may be impossible, said the aide, noting Democrats likely would have to use time-consuming procedural maneuvers in order to get to a vote.

Steven T. Dennis and Susan Davis contributed to this report.

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