Democrats decide how quick and how aggressive they should act against Bush

Democrats' ambitious plans to limit President George W. Bush's war authority and force a change of course in Iraq are faltering amid party divisions over how quickly and aggressively they should act.

A group of senior Senate Democrats is pushing to repeal the 2002 measure authorizing the war and write a new resolution restricting the mission and ordering troop withdrawals to begin by this summer. In the House, a respected veteran wants to use Congress' spending power to essentially force Bush to scale back U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Both plans appear to lack the support they would need to prevail, however, as Democratic leaders struggle to form a party consensus on how to move forward.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said he wants to put off votes on the new, narrower war authorization so the Senate can turn to a measure enacting the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 commission.

Democrats are eager to pass the 9/11 measure - one of a handful they promised to push through once in power - to show they can govern. Family members of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are leaning on senators to leave the bill free of extraneous items that could bog it down.

"Iraq is going to be there - it's just a question of when we get back to it," Reid said, predicting it would be "days, not weeks" before the Senate returned to the issue.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a Democrat, meanwhile, said she does not support tying war funding to strict training and readiness targets for U.S. troops.

The comments distanced her from Rep. John Murtha, the former Marine combat veteran and Democrat who has said he wants to use Congress' spending power to force a change in policy in Iraq, by setting strict conditions on war funding.

Pelosi said she supports holding the administration to training and readiness targets, but added: "I don't see them as conditions to our funding. Let me be very clear: Congress will fund our troops."

Asked whether the standards should be tied to a $100 billion (EUR 76 billion) supplemental war spending measure - as Murtha has proposed - Pelosi demurred, saying it was up to the panel that drafts funding bills.

The developments on both sides of the Capitol reflected disarray in Democratic ranks on Iraq. Swept into power by voters clamoring for an end to the war, Democrats have seen their efforts stymied under realities more complicated than they found on the campaign trail.

The Democrats' symbolic measure disapproving of Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops into Iraq over the next few months passed the House on Feb. 16 only to stall in the Senate. The House plan to place strict restrictions on war funding appears to lack enough support within Democratic ranks to succeed, and looks likely to be scaled back, considering Pelosi's latest comments.

The Senate bid to narrow the 2002 resolution authorizing the war appears to lack the 60 votes it would need to be approved in the Senate, and action on it now is likely to be put off - at least for the week.

"We're doing the very best we can," Reid said. "Iraq is here. It's not going to go away."

The first signs of impatience among Democrats' allies are sprouting.

"The public is saying, 'We hired you to get out of Iraq - now figure it out,"' said Tom Matzzie, Washington director of the anti-war group "There is a risk that without action, frustration boils over into anger."

Democrats argue that their failed efforts to thwart Bush's war plans will ultimately pay off by ratcheting up pressure for a change.

"The administration is increasingly isolated and they are increasingly at odds with where the American people are," said Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman. "We're going to keep on going at it until the administration changes course."

But Democrats also are worried about being at odds with public opinion as House and Senate leaders push divergent measures.

House Democrats, who enjoy a 32-seat majority, will try this week to determine whether there is enough support among themselves to pass the Murtha plan. Senate Democrats are meeting to discuss whether to postpone action on the war reauthorization, as Reid suggested, the AP reports.

Bush told governors Monday that he looked forward to a "healthy debate" on Iraq, but warned Congress against limiting funding for the war or commanders' flexibility in waging it.

"I do not believe that someone is unpatriotic if they don't agree with my point of view. On the other hand, I think it's important for people to understand the consequences of not giving our troops the resources necessary to do the job," Bush said.

Democrats' troubles finding a strategy on the war reflect a wider lack of consensus among the public about what course to take in Iraq. AP-Ipsos polls show that while a clear majority are pessimistic about the war and oppose a buildup, most people do not support cutting funding for the troops.

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