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Key Democrats Unhappy With Iraq Bill

Some of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs are poised to oppose the $62 billion in GI benefits that is being advanced as part of the war supplemental because no money is being included to offset the measure.

The House has recessed temporarily to wait for the Rules Committee to pass today’s rule for the supplemental.

House leaders are planning to bring the bill to the floor in two parts; each portion will require its own rule. The votes are likely to happen late this afternoon or evening.

The first amendment will be to approve $161.8 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into 2009. The second amendment will be to approve domestic provisions, including the expanded GI bill, unemployment insurance extension and flood disaster assistance. Democratic sources said that while leadership wanted to approve a rule for the supplemental on voice-vote, some Blue Dogs, including co-chair Mike Ross (D-Ark.), would instead call for a recorded vote in order to register their dissent on the costs of the domestic spending portion of the bill. But all the same, Ross plans to vote for the actual bill, though other Blue Dogs are expected to oppose it.

Ross said Members of the group “have not, and will not, back down on our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Ross accused Senate Republicans of being the biggest impediment to fiscal responsibility on the supplemental.

“The House has demonstrated that we can pass a fiscally responsible GI bill that honors our veterans by fully funding these important education benefits,” Ross said.

“Time after time, Senate Republicans demonstrate that they would rather borrow the money from China than make the difficult decisions necessary to put this country on a path to fiscal and economic recovery.”

Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated today that the Senate would likely support the House compromise without tacking on additional spending.

Blue Dog Co-Chairman Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) on Wednesday also said he would not vote for an unpaid-for GI package.

Still, Boyd praised Democratic leaders for cutting a bipartisan deal on the bill in order to get it signed into law, even though “I may not like the outcome.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she talks to Blue Dogs “every day” and that she expected some to vote for the bill and others to oppose it.

Asked whether the fiscally conservative Democrats are angry with leadership for agreeing to strip the $62 billion offset from the final bill, Pelosi said, “No, it’s not a question of that. It’s been professional.”

On another front, anti-war Democrats are expected to support the domestic portion of the bill, despite their desire for stronger language relating to Iraq policy changes.

“Obviously, most folks are supportive of the GI and unemployment package, but I’d be very surprised if most folks were happy with the [Iraq] restrictions that were included,” said one aide to a leading anti-war Democrat.

“They’re weak compared with what has been included in the past,” the aide said.

The domestic portion of the bill includes two Iraq policy changes; neither are tied directly to funds being approved.

One provision would require that U.S. reconstruction aid for Iraq be matched dollar for dollar by the Iraqi government. The other provision would prohibit military construction funds from being used to establish permanent bases in Iraq.

Pelosi said to “count me among them” when asked whether anti-war Democrats are upset about the bill lacking troop withdrawal provisions, a rallying cry for the party’s left-wing base.

The political reality is that “you don’t do everything in one bill,” the Speaker said. “It’s important to us to have a bill that will be signed.”

Still, Pelosi said she didn’t “consider it a failure” that Democrats were unable to bring the Iraq War to an end after taking control of Congress.

Democrats have repeatedly put provisions into war bills and resolutions that would set timelines for troop withdrawals, she said, and “we in the House have passed it every single time.”

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