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.
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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)

Administration officials note that they do not oppose benchmarks, and in fact have developed them in the past along with Iraqis. But they are sensitive about provoking Iraqis, who bristled last year when benchmarks crafted by U.S. and Iraqi officials became public and left the impression that Washington was dictating to Baghdad.

But that approach would be too weak even for moderates from both parties. Already, liberal Democrats think that public opinion and circumstances in Iraq are on their side, and they view benchmarks alone as far too weak. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (Wis.) has repeatedly told Democratic leaders that he would not report a war funding bill out of his committee that he could not support. Pelosi is also reluctant to embrace such a compromise until she sees how far congressional Republicans are willing to bend.

Democratic leaders have resigned themselves to losing many of the liberals they worked hard to bring on board the first bill. Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.), a leading Senate war opponent who helped to build Democratic consensus in the first round, said he will vote against the second version unless it includes "a binding approach to ending the war." Feingold is seeking a vote on legislation he co-sponsored with Reid to cut off war funding on March 31, 2008. But he added: "I'm willing to listen to other ideas."

Conservative Republicans were just as balky. Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) argued that any benchmarks would make the bill "unconstitutional." Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), another unwavering Bush defender on Iraq, said he would support adding benchmarks, but with no repercussions should Iraqis fall short.

In a speech yesterday to the Associated General Contractors of America, Bush made a more extended argument that his decision to send additional troops to Iraq is bearing fruit there. He cited a decrease in sectarian violence, an increase in cooperation from local residents, and several recent operations against bombers and militias.

Bush acknowledged that violence remains high and that U.S. casualties "are likely to stay high," but he attributed that to radicals affiliated with al-Qaeda and minimized the role of sectarian conflict even as he used the words "civil war," a phrase he has largely avoided. "For America," Bush said, "the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in a civil war, it's whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11."

Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.

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