- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Democratic majority in Congress is turning to its conservative Blue Dogs and to Republicans today to pass a $120 billion war bill without troop-withdrawal timetables for Iraq — a bill opposed by most of the Democratic caucus and even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Democratic leadership also is counting on Republicans to eventually turn on President Bush and push through measures to end the war — possibly with troop-withdrawal timetables — in the 2008 defense budget in July and the next war supplemental in September.

“We knew it would be a step-by-step process,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, who says she will probably vote against the bill.

House Democratic leaders last night were still planning how to proceed with today’s vote.

Lawmakers said the bill would likely be presented as two amendments, giving Democrats the opportunity to cast separate votes on the $17 billion in domestic spending and the $103 billion in war funding, which pays for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

The domestic spending includes about $9 billion for veterans affairs and defense measures and about $8 billion for Hurricane Katrina recovery, health care for poor children and agricultural programs.

The bill, which is expected to pass the House and Senate today with overwhelming Republican support, represents a painful defeat for Democratic leaders, who took control of Congress while promising to end the unpopular war in Iraq.

Anti-war groups that helped fuel Democratic victories in last year’s election are pressuring the caucus to vote against the legislation, which sets policy benchmarks for the Iraqis, backed up by the threat of cutting off U.S. aid to the country.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq — an anti-war umbrella group of Democratic stalwarts, including MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress Action Fund — sent out a statement warning that it will “turn the heat up on members of Congress, irrespective of party … to make it so hot that they are forced to abandon Bush’s war once and for all.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, a co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said her fellow Democrats were fleeing from the legislation.

“I wish we could have continued to push harder” to end the war, said Mrs. Schakowsky, who plans to vote against the bill.

Widespread Democratic defections also are anticipated in the Senate.

Democrats said they planned to next challenge Mr. Bush on the war with votes in July on the $481 billion defense budget request for 2008 and with votes in September on the $141 billion war supplemental request for next year.

“What’s important now is getting all of General Petraeus’ reinforcements on the ground so his plan can be fully implemented and given a chance to work,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Mr. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress said the troop-withdrawal provision signaled surrender to the enemy and a precipitous pullout would leave Iraq as a failed state and terrorist hub.

The current war-funding bill is expected to include as many as 18 benchmarks to measure the Iraqi government’s progress toward national reconciliation, such as adopting laws to disarm militias, confer equal legal protections to all sects and share oil revenues among the Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunnis.

The president also will have to report to Congress on progress toward benchmarks, and he likely will have authority to waive the cutoff of U.S. redevelopment aid to Iraq for failure to meet the benchmarks.

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