Democrats and Republicans in Congress continue to spar over a multi-billion dollar spending bill containing money for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, majority Democrats have had a tough time balancing the demands of various factions within their party as they attempt to bring the measure to a vote in the House of Representatives next week.

Trying to allay the concerns of conservatives in their party, Democratic leaders removed a provision that would have required President Bush to obtain congressional approval before any military strike on Iran.

In an off-camera briefing for reporters, House majority leader Steny Hoyer said the move was necessary to craft a bill that would satisfy the largest number of Democrats.

The provision regarding Iran was originally inserted during intra-party negotiations to satisfy the most vociferous Iraq war critics among Democrats.

Its inclusion in the Iraq-Afghanistan funding measure also brought howls of complaint from Republicans such as Congressman Mike Pence.

"Just as they are prepared to micro-manage the actions of the U.S. on the ground in Iraq, they are prepared in a pre-emptive manage to micro-manage the actions of the U.S. with Iran," he said. "To do so, I believe, puts U.S. interests in the region at risk, and it puts our cherished ally Israel at greater risk."

In a news conference a bit later, Democratic leaders defended their legislation, saying it reflects their determination to assert oversight responsibilities over the war in Iraq.

Majority leader Hoyer expanded on his earlier remarks, saying Democrats are committed to using their powers to force a change in direction.

"I think the American people realize that we are where we are in Iraq today due in large part to an unchecked executive branch that was never asked to justify its policies, or forced to explain its errors, measures that would have enabled us to make course corrections and succeed," he said.

Adding more than $21 billion to the president's original funding request, the Democratic measure includes numerous add-ons for improving military medical care, as well as domestic programs and homeland security.

It also contains about $225 million more than the White House requested for reconstruction and economic aid for Afghanistan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the $95.5 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, out of a total of about $124 billion in the complete bill, exceeds President Bush's original request.

"We are giving you everything you asked for in the supplemental, in terms of supporting our troops," she said. "In fact, we are giving you more. We have serious concerns about military readiness and we go a long way in this bill to strengthen our military. We're concerned about the fact that promises have not been kept to our veterans when they return and this supplemental adds funds to do just that.

Democrats are using the war funding bill, the latest in a long line of such requests from the White House stretching back to 2003, to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq no later than the beginning of September 2008.

This would occur if President Bush is unable to certify that the Iraqi government is achieving key political, economic and security benchmarks.

The legislation also seeks to impose military readiness conditions that would require the president to certify that troops deploying to Iraq be fully equipped and trained.

To Republicans such as Congressman Eric Cantor this amounts to an attempt by Democrats to take management of the war out of the president's hands.

"An attempt by Nancy Pelosi and her party to put restrictions on the commanders on the ground, to put restrictions on the soldiers who are fighting for us, and I just think it is wrong-headed," he said.

In responding to Republican criticisms, Democrats say the benchmarks in their legislation were those proposed by the president himself in a January speech announcing that an additional 21,000 troops would be sent to Iraq.

The Democratic bill, which faces a crucial test Thursday in a key House committee, also faces a veto threat from President Bush, while Republican leaders insist that they are maintaining unity within their party to oppose it in its current form.