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Iraq Transition

House Democrats try again on Iraq

Story Highlights

• House Democrats strike compromise on war-funding bill
• Plan backs off conditions for funding, instead demanding explanations
• Senate leaders will bring a homeland security bill to the floor this week
• Debate on repealing 2002 Iraq war authorization will be delayed for two weeks
From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Democrats on Wednesday continued to work on a compromise plan for the Iraq war that would try to bridge differences within the party after backing away from legislation that would set conditions on war funding.

On Tuesday night, Democrats met behind closed doors to work on the plan, which attempts to strike a balance between rank-and-file members who want to cut funding as a way to end the war and others squeamish about appearing to be turning their backs on U.S. troops.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, a close confidante of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, had been pushing to withhold some of the president's $93 billion war request unless U.S. troops had the proper training, equipment and required time back on U.S. soil between deployments.

But House Democratic leaders announced after a caucus meeting Tuesday night that they would instead couple the war funding with a requirement that the administration either meet standards for U.S. troop readiness or sign a waiver and explain to Congress -- and the American public -- why those standards were not being met.

Democratic leaders said the goal of the legislation, which has not yet been written, is to put the onus on the president, hold the administration more accountable and end the days of troops going into battle without the proper equipment.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emmanuel, D-Illinois, said the objective is to "raise the bar of accountability." Emmanuel said the proposal would ensure that "the administration is held accountable as well as the Iraqi government."

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the goal was "to get consensus within the caucus on this" and pass the war funding bill. The House Appropriations Committee will vote on the proposal next week, and it will move to the full House for a vote the following week.

House Democratic leaders also say they will set benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet as well, although they admit they have not decided how they intend to enforce those.

Senate leaders delay Iraq debate

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate leaders said Tuesday they will hold off debating a repeal of the 2002 Iraq war authorization, possibly due to divisions that have emerged in the Democratic caucus over how to proceed on addressing the war in Iraq. (Full story)

Instead of debating the war this week, the chamber will complete a homeland security bill that implements the recommendations of the 9/11 commission.

That means the Senate will not debate the Iraq war for at least two weeks. (Watch who's suffering in the polls due to the war Video)

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, on a way to hold an Iraq debate in the near future that would include Democratic measures, such as reauthorization for war, in addition to GOP amendments.

"Sen. McConnell and I are working our way through this to determine when the next debate will take place regarding Iraq," Reid said on the Senate floor.

For weeks, Reid had suggested the 9/11 bill, on the Senate floor this week and next, would be the next forum for senators to offer Iraq-related amendments, but he has changed his mind.

Reid suggested the reason for that is letters he and McConnell received from family members of 9/11 victims, who asked the leaders not to bog down what they consider overdue 9/11 legislation with controversial Iraq measures.

A splintering front?

But another reason Reid decided to delay taking up the Iraq issue may be divisions within the Democratic Party on the issue.

Some Senate Democrats on the left who voted against the war in 2002 say they will not support any measure that backs an Iraq mission.

"I'm not going to go for something that says, 'OK, here's a new mission, we're going to authorize this,' " said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin. "I want to get us out of there."

On the other side of the spectrum, some moderate Democrats in the Senate told CNN they are not comfortable with passing something that doesn't have bipartisan support and are unsure about supporting something that looks like Congress micromanaging the war.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas, told CNN that "my initial response would be probably not supportive of" a vote on reauthorizing the war.

"I think most Americans would like to see us get out, but I think we need to do that in a way that is wise and doesn't in the end make more problems," Pryor said.

The only GOP senator who appears open to the idea is Oregon's Gordon Smith.

Meanwhile, the president's GOP allies continue to hammer Democrats on the idea of reauthorizing the Iraq operation and changing the mission of U.S. troops from a combat role to a support role by March 2008.

On the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said "that strategy will lead us nowhere. Congress should not be involved in micromanaging the day-to-day tactics of the military commanders on the ground. Our Constitution provides for a single commander in chief, not 535 chieftains."

Sen. Byrd opposes funding conditions

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday the Pentagon will start running out of money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by April unless Congress approves the Bush administration's latest $100 billion war spending bill.

The armed forces will be forced to divert funds from other programs to keep paying for the wars, Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The $99.6 billion supplemental spending request comes on top of $70 billion Congress already has appropriated this year. About $93 billion of that would go to the Pentagon, with most of that going to pay for the Iraq war.

Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat and Appropriations Committee chairman, said he expects to hold a committee markup of the bill on March 20.

Byrd's spokesman, Tom Gavin, told CNN that the Appropriations Committee chairman does not support Murtha's idea of putting conditions on Iraq funding.

While Byrd voted against the Iraq mission and has been consistently opposed to the war, he thinks putting restrictions on the war is an "untenable position," according to Gavin.

"Commanders need to have those resources," he said.

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House Democrats have decided to back away from a proposal by Rep. John Murtha to tie funding for the war in Iraq to troop readiness levels.

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