Caucus’s defining moment

House Democrats enjoy a 37-29 advantage over Republicans on the influential Appropriations Committee that will be voting Thursday to withdraw all troops from Iraq by August of next year, or earlier.

But the problem confronting leadership officials is that 12 of the panel Democrats are members of the Out of Iraq Caucus, meaning that if most Republicans reject the spending bill, the caucus has the ability to kill the measure.

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Democratic leaders are confident that they have the votes to move the bill to the floor. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week that “many members of the Out of Iraq Caucus have committed to [the legislation.]”

Yet, when asked for comment on the bill yesterday, only Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) gave a solid indication of support, with a spokesman saying Moran “would back what leadership is pushing for.”

Most of the other Out of Iraq appropriators said they were undecided or did not comment.

The vote, coming days before the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be the first test of whether Pelosi and her lieutenants can balance the conservatives and liberals in her caucus.

Conservatives are worried about accusations that the bill micromanages the war and would take money away from troops in the field. Liberals want to force a faster pullout. But the plan seems to be gaining support among liberals who are glad to see a “date certain” for getting U.S. forces out of Iraq even if it isn’t as soon as they’d like.

“I think most people in the Out of Iraq Caucus and the Progressive Caucus realize this is a major step forward,” said Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), an Out of Iraq appropriator. “To achieve an end date, you need 218 votes.”

Still, the vote will be a difficult one for Out of Iraq Caucus members. If they back the funding bill, they’ll be open to criticism from anti-war groups they have worked with over the last couple of years. A no vote will be remembered by Democratic leaders.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he does not believe the Democratic funding bill has the votes to pass the lower chamber. A potential large factor in that outcome is how many GOP lawmakers back the supplemental. Seventeen Republican House legislators recently voted to oppose President Bush’s surge plan in Iraq.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a member of the Appropriations Committee and a leader of the Progressive Caucus, has authored an amendment that would require U.S. forces out of Iraq by the end of the year. Lee spokesman Nathan Britton said yesterday that he didn’t know if Lee would offer her amendment in committee.

“I support Barbara Lee’s amendment, but I’m fearful that if her amendment were to pass, we would be less likely to pass a bill that would set a date for withdrawal,” Hinchey said.

Many members said they are still waiting to see the exact language to be voted on Thursday.

“From what I can gather, the question is whether the language is binding,” said Chris Shields, spokesman for Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus.

The Pelosi plan calls for a troop withdrawal beginning March 1, 2008. The withdrawal could begin earlier if Bush cannot certify progress in Iraq toward disarming militias and sharing oil revenues.

It would also require a year’s rest for Army units unless the president waives the requirements; block deployment of any unit not assessed “fully mission capable,” unless the president waives the requirement, provide $1 billion more than Bush had requested for operations in Afghanistan, block creation of any permanent bases in Iraq, ban torture, and appropriate $1.7 billion more than Bush had requested for healthcare for returning veterans.

Language blocking Bush from attacking Iran without congressional authorization was not included in the final draft.

The votes come as anti-war groups gear up to protest on the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq Monday. That puts it right between the scheduled committee vote and the floor debate next week.

“It looks like Democrats are scheduling their votes right up against the anniversary of the war, which is appropriate,” said Tom Matzzie, Washington director for MoveOn.org.

MoveOn’s members are planning hundreds of vigils on Monday, and contacting legislators to express support for ending the war, though MoveOn’s members have not taken a position yet on Pelosi’s plan.

On Saturday, the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition is organizing a “March on the Pentagon,” to protest the war. Organizers say they expect “tens of thousands” to participate in the march.

As part of that protest action next week, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will engage in “guerilla street theater,” with members pretending to run Baghdad-style patrols on the streets of Washington, that will include arresting civilian participants.

“It’s one way we’re trying to bring the war home to people who are on their way to work,” said IVAW Chairman Garett Reppenhagen.

On Tuesday, IVAW members will be lobbying on the Hill for troop withdrawal.

Heidi Bruggink contributed to this report.