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Iraq Moves Unclear

Even as House Democrats said Tuesday they will continue to emphasize troop preparedness in the upcoming supplemental spending bill to fund the Iraq War, Democratic leaders appeared to be backing away from efforts that would drastically reduce troop deployments.

And in the Senate on Tuesday, leaders of both parties called a temporary truce in their increasingly bitter fight over the Iraq War, providing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) an opportunity to refocus the Democratic Caucus’ messaging efforts as well as to build some sort of consensus on how to proceed.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) late Tuesday afternoon tried to address their Democratic colleagues’ concerns about how they intend to handle the expected $100 billion Iraq War spending bill, including putting the onus on President Bush to ensure troops are prepared and equipped before being deployed.

“We have to raise the standard of accountability,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said following a meeting of House Democrats, adding that the criteria would be applied to both Bush and the Iraqi government under the Democratic proposal.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said additional funds could be dedicated to training and equipment for those troops, including National Guard personnel, who are assigned to the war.

“We’re talking about focusing more of the funding on readiness,” Pelosi said. The Speaker did not indicate whether those funds would be shifted from other areas in the spending bill or if overall spending would be increased.

While the proposal echoes a plan unveiled by Murtha last week via an anti-war Web site — that plan would use Congressional control over federal funds to require readiness guidelines are closely followed, and make it more difficult for Bush to execute his current war strategy, including an increase in troop levels — Democratic leaders insisted the strategy does not include more stringent rules.

“All we’re saying is follow the policy that’s in place,” Pelosi said.

But Democrats did not indicate how they plan to enforce those guidelines — stating only that they will not cut off funding for troops in Iraq — asserting that the majority will continue to discuss those possibilities. The spending bill is expected in full committee next week and on the House floor the week of March 12.

“You’ll see that as the language becomes apparent,” Emanuel said. However, an aide to the Speaker suggested that the bill could include provisions requiring the president to sign off each time existing guidelines for readiness are waived, something the commander in chief is not currently required to do.

“We would like to see the war ended, but it’s the president’s war,” Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said.

Democratic leaders also stressed a desire to refocus efforts on fighting the broader war on terror in Afghanistan. “If we are truly going to defeat terrorism, we have to refocus on Afghanistan,” Pelosi said.

Aides said the House Democratic Caucus may hold a second meeting this week to further discuss the proposed spending bill.

Following the Tuesday meeting several Democratic lawmakers said they approved of the presentation by Murtha, but were careful to stress that they had yet to see a written copy of any proposal.

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