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Iraq Transition

Dems plan Iraq bill minus timeline but with benchmarks

Story Highlights

• Benchmarks in bill would be tied to Iraqi economic aid
• White House declines comment on items in proposed legislation
• Bill also would raise minimum wage to $7.25 per hour
• Democrats still hope to write timetable into defense spending bill during summer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi will present a plan to House Democrats for a war funding bill that won't include a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq but will feature benchmarks with consequences, according to Democratic leadership aides.

The bill also would raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 per hour, and fund other domestic spending programs, which were still being negotiated.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said any talk of a deal was premature.

"We're hopeful that the discussions over the emergency supplemental funding bill for the troops is nearing a conclusion," she said. "We have not seen the final language yet, and we look forward to reviewing it."

The legislation would provide more than $90 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Leadership aides said the benchmarks would be tied to Iraq reconstruction aid and would require President Bush to present to Congress numerous reports before August.

They said Democrats won't give up on a deadline for pulling troops out of Iraq, hoping to write language into defense appropriations and defense authorization bills over the summer.

Some prominent antiwar Democrats denounced the compromise, and even Pelosi said she was unsure of her vote. But Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, called the plan "the beginning of the end of the president's policy on Iraq."

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the final bill has yet to emerge. But he said he expects to vote on the spending bill by Thursday night or Friday, and he said that even if the bill goes no further than setting benchmarks, "it's a lot more than the president ever expected he'd have to agree to."

"Keep in mind, this is the seventh supplemental appropriation bill that the president has sent us," said Reid. "We don't know what the language will be on this for sure, but it's for certain it'll be the first supplemental ... that he hasn't been given a blank check."

Meanwhile, he said, Democratic efforts to wind down the war will continue.

"We're going to continue our battle -- and that's what it is -- to represent the American people like they want us to represent them, to change the course of the war in Iraq," Reid said.

Republican senators, who had objected to timelines and deadlines, sounded optimistic that a compromise would be reached.

"Hopefully, we will get through this process before Memorial Day," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. "I know that's been the desire certainly of the majority leader, to finish the bill, to get the bill to the president for signature without a 'surrender date.' I think that is the direction in which we are headed."

The language on benchmarks will be taken from an amendment backed by Sen. John Warner, the influential former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Reconstruction funds could be cut if the Iraqi government fails to meet the U.S. benchmarks -- but the president could waive those penalties if he feels it necessary, leading several Democrats to blast the plan as toothless.

Even Pelosi hedged her support for the bill, telling reporters, "I'm not likely to vote for something that doesn't have a timetable or a goal of coming home." But the speaker said party leaders will not be trying to whip members into line on the vote.

House leaders are splitting the package up into two amendments. The first contains the war spending; the second contains up to $20 billion in additional money for military and veterans' health care, children's health insurance programs and hurricane reconstruction in addition to the minimum wage increase.

The tie to the minimum wage rankled another war critic, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. "If this is true, and I hope it is not, it tells American workers that the only way that they will get an increase in wages is to continue funding a war that is taking the lives of their sons and daughters," said Kucinich, a candidate for the party's 2008 presidential nomination.

A leading anti-war voice in the Senate, Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold, said Tuesday that the proposed bill "does nothing to end this disastrous war."

"I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the president to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation's history," Feingold announced on his Web site.

The proposal would require the Bush administration to send progress reports to Congress in July and September, and make changes to U.S. strategy if the Iraqis have made no progress in reaching a political settlement.

Warner said the measure would send the message to Iraq that "we're not there forever," and that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki must "pull your own weight and do your responsible job."

Democrats have said they wanted to get Bush a bill that he could sign by the Memorial Day weekend. The vote in the House of Representatives could come as late as Friday, the day the weekend starts.

Bush vetoed a bill last month that included a timetable for withdrawing troops. Bush also objected to portions of that bill that would have provided domestic funding.

CNN's Dana Bash, Andrea Koppel and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to work out differences last week.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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