House Democrats say consensus is forming on U.S. troop withdrawal

House Democrats have pushed back consideration of the budget resolution and the Iraq supplemental spending bill because they haven’t been able to resolve differences between those who want to mandate a clear date for withdrawal from Iraq and those who don’t.

But leaders are still saying they expect a floor vote before the Easter recess begins April 2, and they are stressing that they have reached consensus in some key areas.

“What we’re trying to do is make policy, not just points,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Hoyer admitted that leaders are “backfilling” their floor agenda with environmental bills because of the delays. Republicans have begun chiding Democrats for stretching out debates to fill floor time with non-controversial bills, such as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s dispensing environmental aid to local governments.

“I wonder if we’re using the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to extend one day’s work into three,” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) told the Rules Committee as it prepared the bills for the floor. “We’re going to spend the week on three bills that should be done in three hours.”

Meanwhile, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) disputed reports that liberal Democratic members will vote against a Democratic plan if it doesn’t set a concrete date for withdrawal.

 “I don’t believe it, and I’ll put money on that,” Emanuel told The Hill. “Even people who have been quoted saying that have told me, ‘That is not my position.’”

Emanuel spoke passionately about a “unity approach” in Tuesday’s Democratic Caucus meeting.

“This is the second bill. There is consensus on three important parts,” Emanuel said, namely more money for Afghanistan than President Bush had requested, more demands placed on the Iraqi government, and fully training and equipping troops. “That’s the building blocks.”

About 10 members spoke at the meeting, including Emanuel, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

Speaking for the liberal wing, Lee said that the “Out of Iraq” caucus is not seeking to cut funding to the troops. But the meeting failed to reach the consensus that leaders are seeking.

Hoyer has said members are discussing a way to allow members of the Progressive and “Out of Iraq” caucuses to offer an amendment on the floor during the Iraq debate for a full withdrawal of troops. But members said that approach was not discussed during Tuesday’s caucus meeting.

But one thing is clear. The size of the supplemental spending has grown well past what the administration proposed. Bill writers have begun adding in items such as agricultural disaster aid and money for children’s health insurance.

 “We’re [at] a substantial figure higher than the president’s plan,” Hastings said, “which causes some heartburn.”