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Key Democrats May Defect on Iraq Bill

As of Wednesday night, key Democratic lawmakers were unclear as to what the elusive war supplemental would look like when it hits the floor on Thursday.

Earlier Wednesday, House party leaders tentatively struck a bipartisan deal on the supplemental. Details of the plan remain unclear, although Democratic and Republican aides confirmed that a possible compromise discussed in meetings was stripping a tax increase for a $52 billion GI benefit expansion.

As such, some were unsure whether they could support it.

Blue Dog co-Chairman Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) said he hasn’t been part of any of the negotiations on the bill over the past couple of days.

However the final bill turns out, the most important thing is that “we ought to be fiscally responsible,” he said.

Without releasing details of the compromise, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the bill “is a real victory” because it funds the troops without “hamstringing our commanders in the field with politically motivated war restrictions.”

Boehner signaled that the package still includes expanded GI benefits but drops a tax increase on wealthy couples to offset the $52 billion costs of those benefits.

That move is likely to engender opposition from Blue Dog Democrats, but win friends in the Senate, where it was stripped in the last go-round.

In addition, the compromise bill “does not include billions in unrelated wasteful Washington pork that was added by Senate Democrats,” the Minority Leader said.

Boyd said efforts to advance a bipartisan bill “would be good for things” and that, while he opposes stripping offsets, final passage of the supplemental is important.

“If they can get a bipartisan deal, I may not like the outcome, but that’s probably a good thing itself,” Boyd said. He noted that he would oppose the bill if it lacked offsets for GI benefits.

The Florida lawmaker emphasized that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) “believe in fiscal responsibility” and are “two good allies” to Blue Dogs.

Still, he added, in the face of competing interests, “they can’t always stand the heat.”

Democratic and GOP sources said party leaders were also weighing the possibility of requiring people to have worked 20 weeks prior to being eligible for unemployment benefits.

This option did not sit well with one of the House’s leading proponents of extending those benefits.

“The way Congress is operating … is at the lowest common denominator: Mitch McConnell,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said about the Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky. McDermott sponsored House-passed legislation to extend unemployment benefits.

McConnell “is the bottom of the whole barrel,” McDermott said. “Whatever he’ll do, we’ll get through.”

The Washington lawmaker said he suspected that GOP calls for adding in the 20-week work requirement were “just a way of delaying it.”

Making that change would be “unfair” to part-time workers, women and minorities, he said. But “if they want to put it in, give it to them,” if that’s what it will take to win GOP support for extended benefits.

“I’m so frustrated at getting anything out, I don’t think we can give them enough to make this pass,” McDermott said. “They don’t care.”

Still, the biggest concern of all is getting President Bush on board with extending benefits, McDermott said.

“The question is, who’s got the ‘umph’ at the White House to say, ‘Mr. President, sign this Goddamn thing.'”

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