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Iraq: Dems cave?

The headline in the New York Times: "Democrats Pull Troop Deadline From Iraq Bill." From the story: "The decision to back down was a wrenching reversal for leading Democrats, who saw their election triumph in November as a call to force an end to the war. It was the first time since taking power in Congress that the Democrats had publicly agreed to allow a vote on war financing without a timetable for troop withdrawal."

Antiwar Democrats criticized the decision. "'We've given everything away,' Virginia Democrat Jim Moran said. 'It will split the Democratic caucus.'"

The Washington Post: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was so disappointed with the outcome that she said she might vote against the Iraq portion of the package, which will be split into two parts when it comes before the House. 'I'm not likely to vote for something that doesn't have a timetable,' she said."

San Francisco Chronicle says the Democrats "finally blinked Tuesday, at least for now."

GOP Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, who is up for re-election in 2008, just came back from Iraq and is slightly more optimistic than he was after his last visit, but he's still one of the few GOPers who want to get out.

NBC's Mike Viqueira yesterday reported on the agreement on the new war-funding bill, and NBC's Ken Strickland has some of the details of what's likely to be in it. For starters, it would tie non-military aide to the Iraqi government meeting political, security, and economic benchmarks.  But President Bush would be allowed to waive the requirements if he chooses. This framework comes from an amendment introduced last week by GOP Sen. John Warner, and it picked up 52 supporters in a non-binding, symbolic vote.

The bill lists 18 benchmarks for the Iraqi government, including legislation on de-Baathification, oil revenue sharing, forming semi-autonomous regions, reducing sectarian violence, and eliminating militia control of local security. The Bush Administration made it clear last week it supported the Warner plan. After a contentious negotiations session with congressional leaders, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten told reporters on the Hill that "it's the only proposal in this area of Iraq language that achieved a truly bipartisan majority." All but three Republicans supported it, along with seven moderate Democrats (Byrd, Landrieu, Lincoln, Nelson, Nelson, Pryor, and Salazar). 

But Strick and Viq note that since the new bill contains no timelines for troop withdrawal from Iraq, Democrats will no doubt lose support from some of their liberal members. While it's especially problematic for House Democrats -- with their "Out of Iraq Caucus" -- the Senate is also not immune. The most glaring Senate defection might be Russ Feingold, who was the first senator to propose legislation that would cut most funding for the war. In a written statement yesterday, he said, "I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the President to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation's history."

Here's the statement Edwards put out last night: "Conceding to the president on full funding for the Iraq war is a serious mistake. It is time to force an end to this war, and the only way for Congress to do that is to use its funding power. Any compromise that funds the war through the end of the fiscal year isn't a compromise at all, it's a capitulation."