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Democrats Drop Troop Pullout from War Funding Bill


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good Morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

One Iraq war funding bill has already been blocked by a presidential veto. A revised bill was threatened with another veto, so congressional Democrats have backed down. An emergency war spending bill they intend to pass this week will not have any of the troop withdrawal timelines that the White House has rejected. Instead, this measure adopts a Republican plans simply calling for reports on how benchmarks for progress in Iraq are being met.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: The House Democrat who drew up the latest version of the war funding bill has opposed the Iraq war from the start. But last night Appropriations Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin said his party, after months of defying the White House, has had to face up to a harsh political reality.

Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): The president has demonstrated with his veto that he can block passage of what we think is the best solution to the problem.

WELNA: And so, Obey said, the House will vote tomorrow on two amendments.

Rep. OBEY: One amendment would be essentially the president's original request for a funding for Vietnam - I mean for Iraq. And attached to that would be essentially the Warner language that was adopted in the Senate.

WELNA: That would be Virginia Republican John Warner's proposal, which got 52 mostly Republican votes in the Senate last week. It has reporting requirements on how 18 benchmarks are being met by the Iraqis, though it also allows the president to waive any consequences if they're not met.

Outside independent evaluations of how things are going in Iraq are also required. Rahm Emanuel, a member of the House Democratic leadership, tried putting the best face on what other Democrats are calling a capitulation.

Representative RAHM EMANUEL (Democrat, Illinois): It ends the blank check the president has had for four years and $500 billion, and begins the process of bringing a new direction and new set of policy standards to our policy in Iraq.

WELNA: The House would also vote on a second amendment, which includes mostly domestic emergency spending on everything from Hurricane Katrina relief to children's health insurance. It also includes a minimum wage increase that's been stalled in Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell does not like the additional spending, but he predicted this bill will get a lot of support.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): There is no cheering yet. We haven't achieved the goal. I think we need to wait until the end of the week to see if we get there. But I'm optimistic that we will achieve the following: a full four-month funding bill without surrender dates.

WELNA: That's because the legislation has no troop withdrawal timelines, an omission Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi last night was clearly unhappy about.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): I'm not likely to vote for something that doesn't have a timetable or a goal of coming home.

WELNA: Like Pelosi, many members of the House Out of Iraq Caucus, also have deep misgivings. Virginia Democrat Jim Moran is one of them.

Representative JIM MORAN (Democrat, Virginia): It seems to me that the Democrats were put in the majority for a reason. And ending this fiasco in Iraq was the principal reason, and that that language doesn't do it.

WELNA: But to such unhappy anti-war Democrats, Appropriations Chair Obey says Congress can live to fight the president on the war another day.

Rep. OBEY: The practical result of this would be that we would transfer the debate on the Iraqi war from the '07 supplemental to the '08 regular defense bill. So we will continue to be pressing the issue. And I would predict in the coming months there will be more and more people coming our way in terms of demanding a change in that Iraqi policy.

WELNA: Indeed, many congressional Republicans are waiting until September before passing further judgment on the war, precisely when Congress will deal with the next big war funding bills.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.