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Iraq Deal Struck

Democratic leaders ceded significant ground to the White House on Tuesday in their bid to finish work on a $100 billion-plus Iraq spending bill before Memorial Day and likely will need Republican votes to balance defections from disaffected Democrats upset about the lack of a withdrawal timeline.

The final package includes language similar to that proposed by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), which would include 18 benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet combined with the potential loss of nonmilitary aid if the government fails to meet them.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said the spending bill would be brought up as two amendments to the Senate-passed Iraq bill.

The first piece, based on the Senate’s version, would provide funding for the war and include an amendment authored by Warner laying 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 second measure would add House language, including domestic spending items such as disaster relief funds, children’s health care, veterans’ health care, base realignment funding, and Hurricane Katrina and agriculture relief. A minimum-wage hike coupled with small-business tax breaks also will stay in the bill as an enticement to liberals.

The measures would be voted on separately in the House, then combined before being returned to the Senate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was not likely to vote for the first part of the package because it did not have any timelines for troop withdrawal, but she nonetheless praised the deal as “a new direction in Iraq.”

“The president has finally conceded that he has to be accountable,” Pelosi said.

Democrats looked to downplay the idea that they were largely caving in to the administration’s position.

“Obviously both sides are in a position where neither can do something without the other. That is the reality,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged Tuesday. “The Democrats cannot adopt a policy over the president’s veto and the president cannot impose his policy as he has done for the first six years of his administration on the Congress.”

But the Maryland lawmaker argued that Democratic efforts in recent weeks on the bill have furthered the majority’s desired goals. “I think we have moved this debate very substantially forward in terms of accountability and demanding a new direction in Iraq,” Hoyer said.

“I think we will have significant support of the supplemental,” Hoyer asserted. “There are going to be a lot of things in the supplemental that I think an awful lot of Members in the [Democratic] Caucus will feel very important.”

But other lawmakers who have voted in favor of earlier versions of the emergency spending bill despite reservations said Tuesday they are likely to oppose the newest measure.

“It rips at the guts of everything we say about this war,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), citing the elimination of any type of withdrawal date for military personnel.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus who has voted against the previous spending proposals, similarly criticized the new measure, adding that she expects many of her fellow liberals to oppose the bill.

“It’s going to require Republicans to pass,” Woolsey said, although she declined to estimate how many Democrats would vote to down the measure.

Both liberal and moderate Democratic lawmakers, however, said Tuesday that their leadership has exerted relatively little pressure on Members to support the bill.

One moderate Democrat said that at this point, most lawmakers have publicly stated their positions on the spending bill, adding: “They can’t go changing those reasons.”

“The leadership has a pretty good handle on the politics and position of the Members,” the Democrat said. “Leadership has taken those and must figure out what the White House will sign off on.”

Following the Caucus meeting, many Democrats said the split-bill proposal was met with a sense of resignation. “At this particular time, it’s the best that can be done,” said Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.).

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said, however, that other lawmakers felt aggravation over falling short in negotiations with both the Senate and the White House.

“The frustration is that people are sick of this goddamned war,” he said. McGovern authored a proposal to begin the immediate withdrawal of military personnel from Iraq; however, that bill failed on the House floor earlier this month.

Although moderate Republican lawmakers, including several who met with Bush earlier this month, had yet to see the bill’s details Tuesday, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said it remained possible he and others would support the measure if it did not contain any withdrawal dates.

Another GOP moderate said that Republican leadership had not pushed the issue with Members as of Tuesday afternoon since details of the bill had yet to be released.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Tuesday: “The hope is still to try and get bipartisan support.”

Senate Democratic leaders largely deflected questions about the supplemental Tuesday, saying they were waiting to see what the House would send over, while simultaneously claiming that they were still engaged in the negotiations.

In the meantime, many Democratic lawmakers acknowledged Tuesday afternoon that their efforts will now shift to the upcoming fiscal 2008 Defense spending bill.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said he expects that bill will contain “stronger, more definitive language” on winding down the war.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at a Tuesday press conference that it’s possible the bill might be no more substantive than the Warner proposal, which he had harshly criticized because it allows the president to waive any consequences for failure on the part of the Iraqis. But Reid contended that Congress had still gotten the administration to move in the direction of accountability for the Iraqis.

One Senate Democratic aide explained that the Senate was allowing the House to take the lead on crafting the bill because Pelosi is in the toughest position in terms of finding Democratic votes for significantly weakened Iraq accountability language.

The aide noted that a Senate vote on forcing a withdrawal from combat operations by next year drew the opposition of a symbolically significant 67 Senators, while a similar House measure attracted the support of 169 Democrats — a high vote tally that was a surprise to even the amendment’s backers.

Plus, the aide added, Reid has a better chance of convincing his more liberal, anti-war Members to support the final version, no matter what it is.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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