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Democrats work to smooth Iraq tension
WASHINGTON — Tempers flared on Iraq among Democrats on Tuesday as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fielded criticism from an anti-war congresswoman over liberals' concern that the party is not doing enough to end the war.

Pelosi's behind-closed-doors exchange with Rep. Maxine Waters of California — described as heated by lawmakers and aides who asked not to be identified because of the session's private nature — came as House leaders made progress in their quest for votes on a war spending bill that would require U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by 2008.

Several Democrats said they had been persuaded to support the measure — the party's first binding action to challenge President Bush's war policies — after last-minute changes and a weekend at home with constituents.

The bill is slated for a test vote Thursday in the Appropriations Committee. It is proving a formidable test of Democratic leaders, who are steering a tricky path between liberals who oppose any funding for the military effort and conservatives who do not want to restrict unduly the commander in chief.

Leaders said they were hopeful they could sway enough Democrats to support the $124 billion plan, but a handful of left-of-center lawmakers, including Waters, have declared they won't back it.

"I am philosophically opposed to the war," Waters told reporters after the private meeting. "We're voting to give the president of the United States almost $100 billion to continue the war. I can't support it."

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he was hopeful that Democrats could get the votes to prevail, and Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the party's chief vote-counter, said there was significant support for it.

"Have we got 218 votes for this? I don't know. We're trying to find out. But we're much closer today than we were yesterday," Clyburn said.

Still, lingering tensions on Iraq were aired at a meeting of House Democrats, according to those who attended. Waters told Pelosi that the proposed funding measure did not reflect the sentiments of a group of liberals who call themselves the "Out of Iraq" caucus and favor denying funding for the war and using the money instead for a withdrawal.

Pelosi argued that the measure would accomplish their goals, and she went on to criticize Waters and other members of the group who abruptly left a meeting about the plan last week to hold a news conference saying they opposed it.

In remarks to reporters, Waters denied having an angry exchange with Pelosi. "They've done the best job that they can do," Waters said of House leaders.

Lawmakers and aides who were present at the session said it was a heated moment that reflected the difficulties leaders have experienced getting agreement on the funding measure.

"There is still some frustration — it's just human," said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., a liberal who is supporting the funding measure.

Pelosi also fielded criticism from lawmakers for removing language from the bill barring military action against Iran without congressional approval. She said the issue would be addressed in future legislation.

"We're having folks expressing every doubt, every reservation, every aspiration they have for this bill," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., another supporter.

In a bid to broaden its appeal, leaders stripped the Iran requirement and omitted language favored by several liberal members that would have specifically prohibited funding of military operations after fall 2008.

While the liberals said this threat would help enforce the deadline, Democratic leaders viewed the politically charged language as unnecessary.

The measure provides nearly $100 billion for two wars, including more money than Bush had requested for operations in Afghanistan, and to address what Democrats called training and equipment shortages. House Republicans say they will work to sink the measure, and the White House threatens a veto.

"Congress should approve the funds our troops are counting on without strings and without delay," Rob Portman, Bush's budget chief, said in a statement Tuesday.

Portman criticized Democrats for adding billions in unrelated domestic spending to the measure.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who was initially skeptical of Pelosi's approach, said he is now on board with the measure and is trying to persuade other members to stop fussing over when troops should leave Iraq.

"The date question has become moot" because the military is running on fumes, said Abercrombie, D-Hawaii.

Rep. Alan Boyd of Florida, a conservative Democrat who had voiced concerns about the Iran language, said he would now support the measure.

"I think it's the right thing to do," Boyd said, adding that Democrats had an obligation to make sure that troops on the ground don't run out of money.

Public opinion has swung the way of Democrats on the issue of the war. More than six in 10 Americans think the conflict was a mistake — the largest number yet found in AP-Ipsos polling.

Some skeptics of the plan sounded resigned to its passage.

"The majority of members are content that it is a compromise, and they'll probably go along with it to get a bill done," said Rep. James Moran, D-Va., adding that he's still on the fence.

"It's a far cry from the bill that I originally supported," Moran said, referring to one drafted by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., that would have tied funding to troop training and readiness standards. The new proposal would allow Bush to waive such standards.

The Senate is to hold a test-vote Wednesday on a Democratic-written measure that also contains a 2008 deadline for the withdrawal of combat troops, except those needed to train Iraqi forces, protect U.S. personnel and infrastructure, and carry out counterterrorism operations.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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