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House Democrats Signal Readiness to Talk on Iraq Bill


As the Senate tries to move closer to a vote on its Iraq-Afghanistan funding bill, Democrats in the House of Representatives are signaling their readiness to talk with President Bush about the legislation. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, the president has threatened to veto any measure containing a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.

When they assumed control of Congress, Democrats pledged to chart a new direction on Iraq, but also held out an olive branch to the president saying they hoped he would work with them.

Last week, House Democrats angered the president when they succeeded in passing a measure containing a call for most U.S. combat operations to cease and troops to be out of Iraq by August 31, 2008 at the latest.

The $124 billion House measure, which also includes billions for domestic programs, contains $95.5 billion for military needs, compared to about $92 billion in the Senate.

President Bush made clear where he stands on this, vowing to veto any bill with a timetable.

In separate venues Tuesday, House Democratic leaders signaled they are ready to talk.

Majority leader Steny Hoyer was asked in an off-camera briefing how Democrats would approach a conference with the Senate to reconcile differences between House and Senate--passed versions

I think we would like to reach out to the president, says Hoyer, adding that Democrats do not consider the August 31, 2008 withdrawal deadline in their legislation to be micro-managing the war.

Congressman Jim Clyburn, the Democratic whip, echoed Hoyer's call for the White House to work with Congress. "It would be my hope that the White House would get engaged with us, and what we would do is to produce a product that the House, Senate and the White House will agree to," he said.

Clyburn says he could personally support some sort of confidential timeline, which would be known only to the Bush administration, the Iraqi government, and selected members of Congress, which is among options raised in discussions on Capitol Hill.

Also remarking on the timetable issue was Democratic caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel, who suggests discussions should begin. "Rather than the White House always trying to issue veto threats, we would welcome them in, to start the discussion. The goal here is not to get to a veto. The goal is to get something done, and we would hope the White House would adopt that attitude on this process," he said.

In a key vote Tuesday, the narrowly Democratic-controlled Senate rejected an amendment proposed by Republican Thad Cochran to remove language in the Senate measure that sets a non-binding goal of withdrawing troops from Iraq by March of 2008.

But Senate Republicans know that even if a Senate-passed bill goes to a conference with the House with the language retained, it still faces the president's veto.

Senate Democrats want to end debate and vote on that version of the Iraq-Afghanistan supplemental before the end of this week when Congress is set to begin a spring recess.

President Bush and Defense Secretary Gates have urged Congress to send him legislation he can accept so the money, which is designated as 2007 emergency funds, can be used for military operations.

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