Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Democratic Caucus Split by Iraq Troop-Withdrawal Concession"

A decision by Democratic leaders in Congress to drop a troop-withdrawal timeline from Iraq war- funding legislation outraged anti-war Democrats and will force the party to depend on Republican support to pass the measure.
Democratic leaders said that they didn't have the votes to overcome a threatened veto of the troop-withdrawal plan and instead will compel President George W. Bush to report on whether Iraq is reaching benchmarks toward ending the war.

Anti-war Democrats criticized the decision. ``We've given everything away,'' Virginia Democrat Jim Moran said. ``It will split the Democratic caucus.''

The House is likely to vote tomorrow on the measure, which provides almost $100 billion in funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until the next fiscal year begins Sept. 30.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said that she is ``not likely to vote for something that doesn't have a timetable or a goal of coming home.''

California Democrat Lynn Woolsey, the co-founder of a congressional anti-war caucus, said many Democrats will oppose the measure because the benchmarks are ``meaningless.''

``The anti-war Democrats who care about Iraq have reached their tipping point,'' Woolsey said. ``They're at the end of their rope.''

A Split

The internal dispute over the Iraq measure illustrates a split between Democratic leadership and the party's liberal wing on issues beyond the war, said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington public policy group.

Earlier yesterday, some Democrats in a closed-door meeting also criticized a new framework on trade negotiations that party leaders reached with the Bush administration, saying it doesn't go far enough to reverse a record U.S. trade deficit and save U.S. factory jobs.

``It's clear that it's a problem and it's not going away,'' Ornstein said.

Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern said that while he backed earlier Democratic war-funding proposals, which narrowly passed the House, he will oppose the latest version.

``There are no timetables, there's no accountability,'' McGovern said. ``The president doesn't have to pay attention to any of this stuff.''


Anti-war groups also expressed frustration. ``Continuing to fund the war without setting timelines or benchmarks is another step toward endless war,'' said Susan Shaer, national co-leader of Win Without War, an activist group.

In addition to the $100 billion in funding for military operations, the proposed measure will likely include about $20 billion in domestic funding and an increase of the federal minimum wage, which has been a top Democratic priority.

The House will hold two separate votes on the measure, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin told reporters, one on the military spending with Iraqi government benchmarks and then a separate vote on the domestic spending.

The measures will then be combined and sent to the Senate for its approval later this week. Congress is scheduled to leave Washington for the week-long Memorial Day recess on Friday.

The conditions attached to the war spending are based on a proposal by Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia that the Senate backed 52-44 last week. It establishes 18 benchmarks for Iraq and requires the president to make regular reports to Congress on the war.

It also ties economic aid to the Iraqi government's progress in meeting the goals, but would allow the president to waive that condition.

Both Chambers

Republican leaders in both chambers have indicated they are willing to tie funds for Iraq reconstruction to the Iraqi government's ability to reach benchmarks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that a funding measure with benchmarks still is ``a lot more than the president ever expected he'd have to agree to.''

Democrats in both chambers vowed to continue their fight to change war policy by attaching conditions on other pieces of defense legislation, including 2008 spending bills Congress will take up later in the year.

``We are doing the next best thing, which is to transfer this issue to the next two defense bills that are coming down the pike,'' Obey said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said that Democrats ``have finally conceded defeat in their effort to include mandatory surrender dates in a funding bill for the troops.''

Republican Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia said most Republicans would probably support the proposal.

Woolsey said the measure will require Republican support to pass because of Democratic opposition.

``The president prevailed,'' she said.

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