Correction to This Article
Clarification to This Article
A May 3 Page One article about negotiations between President Bush and congressional Democrats over a war spending bill said the Democrats offered the first major concession by dropping their demand that the bill include a deadline to bring troops home from Iraq. While Democrats are no longer pushing a firm date for troop withdrawals, party leaders did not specifically make that concession during a Wednesday meeting with Bush at the White House.

Democrats Back Down On Iraq Timetable

"Make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), with fellow Democratic leaders Steny Hoyer (Md.), center, and Harry Reid (Nev.), said after meeting with President Bush. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 3, 2007

President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq.

Democrats backed off after the House failed, on a vote of 222 to 203, to override the president's veto of a $124 billion measure that would have required U.S. forces to begin withdrawing as early as July. But party leaders made it clear that the next bill will have to include language that influences war policy. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) outlined a second measure that would step up Iraqi accountability, "transition" the U.S. military role and show "a reasonable way to end this war."

"We made our position clear. He made his position clear. Now it is time for us to try to work together," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said after a White House meeting. "But make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war."

Bush said he is "confident that we can reach agreement," and he assigned three top aides to negotiate. White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and budget director Rob Portman will go to Capitol Hill today to sit down with leaders of both parties.

But a new dynamic also is at work, with some Republicans now saying that funding further military operations in Iraq with no strings attached does not make practical or political sense. Rep. Bob Inglis (S.C.), a conservative who opposed the first funding bill, said, "The hallway talk is very different from the podium talk."

While deadlines for troop withdrawals had to be dropped from the spending bill, such language is likely to appear in a defense policy measure that is expected to reach the House floor in two weeks, just when a second war funding bill could be ready for a House vote. Democrats want the next spending measure to pass before Congress recesses on May 25 for Memorial Day weekend.

Beyond that, Democrats remain deeply divided over how far to give in to the White House.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) indicated that the next bill will include benchmarks for Iraq -- such as passing a law to share oil revenue, quelling religious violence and disarming sectarian militias -- to keep its government on course. Failure to meet benchmarks could cost Baghdad billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid, and the administration would be required to report to Congress every 30 days on the military and political situation in Iraq.

Benchmarks have emerged as the most likely foundation for bipartisan consensus and were part of yesterday's White House meeting, participants said. "I believe the president is open to a discussion on benchmarks," said Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), who attended the session. He added that no terms were discussed. "We didn't go into any kind of detail," Durbin said.

Just four Republicans supported the first version of the spending bill: Sen. Gordon Smith (Ore.), Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.) and Rep. Walter B. Jones (N.C.). But a growing number of GOP lawmakers want language that would hold the administration and the Iraqi government more accountable.

"The general sense is that the benchmarks are critical," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), a moderate who opposed the original bill but supports some constraints.

White House officials are also looking to benchmarks as an area of compromise, but they want them to be tied to rewards for achievement, not penalties for failure.


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