Scrambling to send President Bush an emergency war spending bill he will sign, Democratic leaders have decided to drop their insistence on a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.
The move -- which comes just days after senior Democrats insisted that White House officials should support nonbinding timelines -- is a significant concession to the president and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill, who have steadfastly rejected any dates for bringing U.S. troops home.
But it reflects the simple mathematics of a closely divided Congress in which Democrats cannot muster veto-proof majorities for any proposal that would compel a pullout.
Democratic lawmakers are under pressure to send the president an emergency spending bill before the Memorial Day break or risk being blamed for withholding critical funding for U.S. troops.
Under the developing Democratic plan, which leaders are still negotiating, Congress would fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year, according to sources familiar with the proposal.
Democrats also are working to include a minimum-wage hike in the funding bill in an effort to push that long-delayed legislative priority into law.
But further discussion of withdrawal timelines that have been central to the Democratic legislative campaign to end the war would have to be delayed until Congress considers other legislation, most likely the defense appropriations bill necessary to fund the military for fiscal year 2008, which begins Oct. 1. Democrats plan to take up that bill this summer.
More immediately, Democratic leaders will have to rally majorities for an emergency spending bill that may be deeply disappointing to the party's most vehement war critics.
Many members of the House's influential Out of Iraq Caucus have said they will not support any legislation that does not attach strict conditions to the continued deployment of U.S. troops.
And as recently as Friday, the top two Democrats in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, insisted on a nonbinding timeline at a meeting with top White House officials.
White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten emphatically rejected any timelines at the meeting, signaling White House support only for a far less restrictive proposal linking economic aid to the performance of the Iraqi government.
That approach, which senior Democrats are looking at incorporating into the bill being finalized this week, has already won broad support among GOP lawmakers. Last week, 52 senators, including 44 Republicans, voted to support a similar proposal sponsored by GOP Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia and Susan Collins of Maine.
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the second-ranking Republican in the House, said Monday that such a proposal might be attractive to GOP members of the House as well. "I'm fine with economic and political consequences" for the Iraqi government, Blunt said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a war critic and a co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said Monday she would be looking for Democratic leaders to explain when timelines will be passed if they are not part of the emergency spending bill.