I’m told by a senior Congressional official involved in the negotiations that House Democratic leaders plan to handle their Iraq war funding dilemma by attaching two amendments to a bill sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray. The first amendment will include most of the popular domestic spending (or pork, as critics call it) that was included in earlier bills that did not become law. The amendment will also include a hike in the minimum wage.
The second amendment will cause far greater consternation within the Democratic caucus and among Democratic activists at the grass and Net roots. According to the source involved in the negotiations, it will include the money requested by President Bush to fund the Iraq mission through Sept. 30, 2007. It will also include language crafted by Sen. John Warner (R-VA), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, that lays out benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet and reporting deadlines for the Presidennt to update Congress on progress in Iraq — 18 of them in all. But the benchmarks are not timelines; they will not mandate any troop withdrawals.
Democratic leaders expect the first amendment to pass with a large majority, including Republicans eager to bring home domestic spending projects. The second amendment will, of course, be trickier. It will split the Democratic caucus in half, with as many as 120 Democrats voting no. Among the nays, I’m told, will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will have negotiated a bill that she thinks is the best option for House Democrats but which she personally can’t support. Most other Democratic leaders are expected to vote in favor. Still, if only 100 Democrats vote yes, the amendment will require at least 118 Republicans in order to pass.
“Some will say no, some will say yes,” the official involved in the negotiations said of rank and file Democrats. “It’s not a perfect bill. Nobody got what they wanted. But it is the beginning of the end of George W. Bush’s policy in Iraq.”
Mindful of the split within their ranks, and of the fury the compromise will likely spark among anti-war activists, Pelosi and the rest of the House Democratic leadership will promise to return to the timelines — and other measures designed to pressure Bush to withdraw from Iraq — in the Defense appropriations bill for the next fiscal year. “We’ll be able to write a lot of policy in appropriations that Bush won’t be able to veto,” says the official.