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Hill Close To Deal on War Funds

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was the first to suggest to Hill Democrats the outlines of the pending deal on war funds for Iraq.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was the first to suggest to Hill Democrats the outlines of the pending deal on war funds for Iraq. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)

"I am adamantly opposed to it," Boehner said Thursday. "I came here to hold the line on spending, not to raise it."

Blunt said yesterday that Democrats will give in on war funding, with or without additional money for domestic programs. "There's no reason to make a bad bargain," he said. "The president holds all the cards."

McConnell has been more circumspect in his public statements, predicting that an omnibus spending bill will pass only if Bush gets Iraq war funding with no timeline strings attached to it.

"We made our bright lines very clear," said Don Stewart, McConnell's spokesman.

Behind closed doors, McConnell has expressed confidence in the Republican negotiating position, telling his GOP colleagues Thursday that, by holding firm, they had moved from a Democratic offer of no money for the war to at least $30 billion, according to a Republican in the meeting.

"We're just going to sit right here," McConnell told Senate Republicans of the negotiating strategy, according to the Republican, who made anonymity a condition for speaking freely about an internal meeting.

Senate Republican leadership aides said an additional $11 billion in domestic spending, plus drought relief, might be a hard sell in the Senate. One GOP aide said that the Democrats made a bargaining mistake last month when Reid signaled that the Democrats were willing to halve their initial request of $22 billion in additional domestic spending, setting "boundaries" for the current debate in which $11 billion serves as the new ceiling.

Regardless of the spending increases for veterans, health care, education and other domestic priorities, however, several House Democrats have said they will vote against any bill that includes war funding shorn of policy prescriptions. Pelosi will have to attract considerable Republican support to get the deal through.

Democratic leadership aides expressed confidence that Boehner and Blunt will not be able to keep enough Republicans away from a bill that funds the war, popular domestic programs and their own pet projects, known as earmarks. With a long holiday break beckoning, few lawmakers will be in the mood for a protracted standoff.

Ultimately, it will be up to Bush to decide whether to accept the deal. Sean Kevelighan, a spokesman for the White House's Office of Management and Budget, would not say how the president will proceed.

"Until we have seen a piece of legislation, it's really hard to speculate, because not only had [the Democrats'] strategy been shifting constantly, but we can't know whether or not the House and the Senate are even talking to each other," he said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the president's position has not changed. He wants the war funds without strings, and he wants Congress to toe his line on spending.

Hoyer struck a pragmatic tone, pushing for Congress to adjourn for the year by the end of next week. He suggested that Democrats need to divorce their goal of ending the war from the battle over funding.

"We have to get to a point where the American public more clearly perceives our policy position and is not confused by whether or not the Democrats intend to support the troops that we've sent to Iraq. I don't think there's an option on that," Hoyer said.

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