Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives face uncertainty as they proceed with plans to bring legislation to the floor later this week to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide billions in domestic and homeland security needs. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, Democrats need to prevent defections in their own ranks, as they face stiff resistance from minority Republicans to the measure.
Publicly, Democratic leaders continue to express optimism about the upcoming vote, but a different picture emerges when one looks behind the scenes.
The Democratic measure, which totals about $124 billion, with just over $95 billion for war needs, calls for a withdrawal of forces no later than September of 2008, and would require the president to certify that any troops he would deploy to Iraq before then be fully trained and equipped.
For weeks, leaders have had to contend with demands from outspoken war critics on the left of the party who would like to see a timetable that sets an earlier date to withdraw troops from Iraq.
Still others, representing the conservative wing of the party, continue to be wary of setting any certain date.
In a speech on the floor of the House marking the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, House majority leader Steny Hoyer urged bipartisan support for the measure.
Hoyer challenged Republicans who have disparaged the Democratic legislation.
"The Iraq war is already longer than our participation in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War," he noted. "The specter of five-and-one-half years in Iraq, if our troops remain deployed until August 31 of 2008, can hardly be called a precipitous cut and run."
Minority Leader John Boehner and other Republican leaders predict a united front in their party against the measure.
"We will oppose these efforts to hamstring our generals, our troops on the ground, in their effort, and in their mission, of succeeding in Iraq," said Mr. Boehner.
Republicans issued a statement Tuesday calling the Democratic bill a "political charade" and predicting that it would never be approved in the Senate.
Uncertainty in the Democratic caucus about Thursday's vote was evident in a Tuesday news conference.
Reporters repeatedly pressed Congressman Jim Clyburn and Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic whip and caucus chairman respectively, on how confident they are in getting the 218 votes needed for passage:
CLYBURN: "I would say we are closer to 218 today than we were yesterday, and we will be closer to it tomorrow than we were today."
EMANUEL: "I have no doubt that we will have the votes that we need to pass this legislation."
In the background, Democratic leaders have been busy fighting for every vote possible, amid indications that a group of the most outspoken anti-war Democrats will vote against the bill.
Just 17 Republicans crossed party lines to support a recent Democratic non-binding resolution opposing President Bush's troop surge in Iraq, and only a few are expected to support the Iraq funding measure.
Underscoring the spectrum of views in the House, Democratic and Republican lawmakers went before the Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday to detail more than 30 bills regarding Iraq introduced since January.
In advance of Thursday's House debate on Iraq-Afghanistan funding, five Iraq war veterans came to the Capitol building to express their support for the Democratic measure, Brian Van Riper and John Bruhns.
VAN RIPER: "We can't sit back as Americans any longer and allow our military to be dragged further into Iraq, what is ultimately becoming a fruitless mission. I don't see an end anywhere in sight."
BRUHNS: "I think it is imperative that we tell the Iraqis that we need benchmarks, we need them to show us that the training wheels have been taken off and our troops aren't carrying the full responsibility."
In a statement marking Monday's fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, President Bush urged Congress to approve Iraq-Afghanistan bill, in his words, "without strings and without delay", and threatens to veto the legislation as currently written.