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Democratic Leaders Rule Out Iraq Funds Cutoff

The incoming Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats are ruling out any effort by members of their party to have Congress cut off funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq. Proponents of such a move say any funds lawmakers approve when Democrats assume control of Congress in January should be used to bring U.S. troops home. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

Congresswoman Pelosi made her position clear as House Democrats met to discuss options and a future position on Iraq.

Pelosi says the meeting highlighted that there are no easy answers to "the very difficult challenge" in Iraq, but she nonetheless stated her firm opposition to any funding cutoff:

"Absolutely not," she said. "Let me remove all doubt in anyone's mind, as long as our troops are in harm's way, Democrats will be there to support them. But we will have oversight over that funding."

Pelosi was responding to reporter's questions after Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich urged fellow Democrats to cut off funds for Iraq.

"Why in the world would we want to appropriate an additional $130 billion? This would keep the U.S. in Iraq through mid-2008," he said.

Kucinich refers to a new "supplemental" request for Iraq and Afghanistan that the Bush administration is expected to send to Capitol Hill when the new 110th Congress convenes, estimates of which range as high as $160 billion.

In addition to a funding cutoff, Kucinich advocates a transfer of authority to the United Nations, a U.N. peacekeeping force, and bringing U.S. troops home within 90 days.

While rejecting any funding cutoff, Democratic leaders are signaling their intention to reverse what they call a long and damaging period in which majority Republicans "rubber-stamped" such requests.

That will play out as House appropriations and government oversight committees, soon to have Democratic chairmen, subject spending to greater scrutiny.

Congressman Rahm Emanuel, a key player in the incoming Democratic leadership, predicts the next administration funding request will be a defining moment for Congress:

"That is going to be the turning point for a new direction, and that is a critical point in how we, as a country, pursue our foreign policy and national security objectives, in both Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

Sharpened oversight will involve, among other things, committee hearings on alleged waste and fraud by contractors in Iraq, aimed, says Emanuel, at holding people accountable.

But on overall solutions for Iraq, Democrats continue to assert they will look for bipartisan solutions. Here is incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:

"We are hopeful that we could work with the president, work with our Republican colleagues, to assure that we affect a very substantial change in policy," he said. "None of us want to fail, none of us want to see Iraq as a failure. But none of us want to continue to pursue a policy that is not only not working, but leaves our men and women deployed in the armed forces at great risk."

A new direction on Iraq would, in the Democrats' view, include redeployment and transition of U.S. forces from Iraq, disarming militias, an international conference to discuss stability and reconstruction of Iraq, and amending Iraq's constitution to minimize civil strife.

Comments by Democrats came as Americans await the formal release of a report by the 10-member independent Iraq Study Group containing recommendations for the Bush administration.

President Bush's choice as the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, told a Senate panel considering his nomination that the U.S. not winning in Iraq, but added American forces would have to remain in Iraq, at a reduced level, for some years to come.