House Dems reach tentative Iraq spending accord

House Democratic leaders have settled on a tentative proposal to require the Iraqi government to meet a series of benchmarks and, if they miss meeting those conditions, U.S. troops would begin a phased redeployed by a certain date, said a Democratic aide.

House Democratic leaders met twice on yesterday to hammer out details of what they plan to present to their caucus on today. Democratic aides were tight-lipped about the details in the proposal.

Democratic leaders have debated for weeks how to cajole President Bush to change policy in Iraq while satisfying both liberal and conservative Democrats who have differing views of how to proceed in Iraq.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said he would present the plan to freshman Democrats and the centrist Blue Dog Democrats. 

            “I’m looking for the center of gravity in the House,” Obey said. “People need to understand, we’re not a bunch of Thomas Jeffersons writing the Declaration of Independence. This language is not going to be language for the ages.”

“We’ve made many, many changes,” Obey said. “We hope we will be able to lay out a fairly complete package.”
Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with members of the Progressive Caucus late yesterday afternoon.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, did not seem keen to endorse the proposal.
“There’s no enforcement mechanism,” she said. “We have had the same thing in place for two years and we’re expecting [Bush] to do something, who has no intention of working with us?”

She added that lawmakers would not be allowed to offer amendments to the spending bill, but that she and others are counting supporters for an amendment that would require a complete withdrawal from Iraq by next year. 
Progressive Caucus members are asking their fellow Democrats if they would vote for the withdrawal proposal, and whether they plan to vote for the overall supplemental.

“Now, we’re whipping everybody,” Woolsey said. “If everyone’s going to vote for the supplemental, we’re just wasting our time. We’ve already determined we’re not wasting our time.”

But it is clear that their goal is to keep the burden of fighting the war on Bush while pushing the Iraqi government to take more responsibility for ending sectarian bloodshed.

“What it includes is language that gets the Iraqis to belly up to the bar and do what they need to do, which is stop killing each other,” Obey said. “Iraqis need to understand there is an end to our patience on this turkey operation.
“Eventually, the Republicans are going to have to go down to the White House and tell the president that the jig is up,” and Iraqis need to take over, Obey added.

Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) said the new language would also include new domestic spending.

“Things in this will surprise people,” Murtha said. “It’s domestic side stuff. It’s big. It’ll be very interesting.”
The Democratic aide said the supplemental spending bill also would include money for Walter Reed Army Medical Center, veterans healthcare programs, Hurricane Katrina rebuilding, Afghanistan and agriculture.
The earliest the Appropriations Committee could meet on the Iraq supplemental is the middle of next week. It could go to the floor the week after that.

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), the ranking Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee, told reporters yesterday that the White House asked for more money to support the troop surge in Iraq and, to pay for the surge, the White House proposed removing funding for the Joint Strike Fighter and other programs.