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House Democrats to hash out war funding floor strategy

The multibillion dollar supplemental could hit the House floor as early as Thursday.

A supplemental spending bill that would fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could be on the House floor as soon as Thursday, according to House Democratic leadership sources, while Senate appropriators continue plans to mark up the measure.

A final decision to move ahead will be based on reaction of rank-and-file members after a Democratic Caucus briefing Tuesday.

"If we don't have the votes, it's not going to move," said one senior Democratic aide.

House leaders, who are likely to skip a House Appropriations Committee markup and take the bill straight to the floor, are meeting Monday afternoon ahead of Tuesday's Caucus meeting.

The bill is expected to include $108 billion for fiscal 2008 and $70 billion for fiscal 2009 to cover war funding. President Bush sent Congress Friday a request detailing how the fiscal 2009 $70 billion slice of the funding would be spent, including $66 billion for the Defense Department and $4 billion for the State Department and other international operations. Of the Defense funding, $45.1 billion would be used for the Iraqi and Afghan theaters.

But Democratic leaders are exploring the possibility of including funds for domestic programs, such as increased veterans' education benefits, extending unemployment insurance and energy tax credits. When House leaders bring the measure to the floor, the plan is to have three separate votes on the war spending, war policy and other domestic considerations. The maneuver is expected to ease passage of the measure by winning the support of the Out of Iraq Caucus, a group of over 70 Democrats seeking to bring combat troops home.

Meanwhile, the office of Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.V., Monday said he intends to holds a markup on the war supplemental bill. However, a date and time has not been set. Byrd's plans come as Senate Democratic leaders are deciding whether the bill needs to be marked up. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., last week said he had not made up his mind whether a markup was warranted, in part because it was still uncertain what was going to be in the bill. "It's easy to cancel a markup," he said. Reid said Congress would do its best to meet a Pentagon-imposed Memorial Day deadline for passage of the bill, but stressed that there is enough money in the pipeline to keep operations funded.

Pentagon and Bush administration officials have been adamant that the Army would have difficulty paying soldiers after Memorial Day. "We begin to run out of money to pay the Army in June," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at press briefing last month.