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Fall Brings New Fights Over Iraq

Democrats to Boost Pressure

Democratic leaders will use the first week back from recess to renew their calls to wind down the Iraq War, seizing on anticipated bleak reports on Iraqi political progress to pressure Republicans who have voted in lock step with President Bush.

New reports are due this week from the Government Accountability Office and an independent commission headed by Gen. James Jones, and Democrats plan to use them as a launching pad to criticize Bush’s conduct of the war in a series of hearings.

But Democrats have yet to agree on a legislative strategy for a massive looming war spending bill. Bush budgeted $147 billion for war in fiscal 2008 and reportedly may seek as much as $200 billion. Democrats have been loath to provide anything but full war funding lest they be tagged as shortchanging the troops, but they have blasted the potential additional spending given the lack of political progress by the Iraqi government.

Republicans who have clung to the line that they need to wait until September progress reports to deflect questions on Iraq will have to come up with a new argument or take a firm position moving forward.

“They are going to have to make a decision on whether to move the goal posts,” said one senior Democratic leadership aide. “Spring could become the new September if they think that gives them enough time to abandon the president before the elections. Until then it’s hard to affect things because the president can veto whatever we do.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has sounded conciliatory toward cutting a deal with Republicans, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has promised that Republicans will get more chances to vote to end the war. Reid needs 60 votes to get anything passed and was burned earlier this year when Democrats raised expectations that they would be able to end the war only to cave almost completely to the president’s demands.

“I remain absolutely committed to changing course in Iraq and bringing our troops home,” Reid said in a statement last week. “There are a number of different ways to do that legislatively, but enough Republicans need to break with the President to give us the 60 votes necessary to do so. ... I am willing and ready to help my Republican colleagues keep their word by working in a bipartisan way to change course in Iraq.”

Democrats have continued to float various proposals, from liberals’ demands that no more money be spent except on withdrawal to Rep. John Murtha’s (Pa.) proposal for a short-term spending bill tied to a start date for beginning a withdrawal but no firm end date. And some Democratic hawks are starting to emerge, notably Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.), who returned from Iraq urging support for the “surge” strategy. Still others have backed the idea of putting the Iraq Study Group recommendations into law.

The main event comes later this month, after status reports and testimony from Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due.

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