Democrats in Congress are challenging President Bush over the war in Iraq on a number of fronts.
Wednesday, the Senate begins debate on a measure that includes a goal of withdrawing U.S. troops by spring 2008. Thursday, a House committee takes up a bill that would pay for the war until October, but require U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of August 2008.
The House plan is complex. Democratic leaders have added and subtracted many unrelated provisions as they work to find enough votes to pass it.
Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, sits on the House Appropriations Committee. He opposes the war in Iraq, but for a time he thought he could support a bill funding the war for another year, if the right conditions were attached.
But when the appropriations panel meets Thursday, Moran says he now expects to vote against the Democrats' latest plan because of what is not in the bill. There's no mention of Iran.
"The last straw, really, as far as I'm concerned ... was the decision to take out the language prohibiting the president from military actions within Iran," Moran said.
That language, which was in an earlier draft of the measure, would have required the president to seek approval from Congress if he wished to take military action against Iran. But while taking the provision out of the Iraq war funding bill was a deal-breaker for Moran, it had the opposite effect on Rep. Alan Boyd, a Democrat from Florida.
"You never know what might happen in some emergency situation, so I think it's always maybe a little bit dangerous to put language like that in there which would have tied the president's hands to respond and react in a critical emergency situation," Boyd said.
The difference between the beliefs of Moran and Boyd illustrates the tightrope Democratic leaders are walking as they try to find votes for the now $124 billion spending measure, which will fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of the fiscal year.
Liberals like Moran don't much like the bill, because they want out of Iraq now, and even next summer is too long to wait. Conservatives like Boyd believe Congress has an obligation not to tie the hands of military commanders.
Democrats have been trying to bridge that gap by adding lots of extras into the measure, including an increase to the minimum wage and extra dollars for agriculture, Katrina disaster relief, children's health care and veterans.
It's an approach that has been roundly criticized by some Democrats and by Republicans, including Indiana Rep. Mike Pence:
"I and many House conservatives are very troubled about what we see as a bidding war that is under way to secure the votes necessary for passage," Pence said. "The American people are going to see a gargantuan emergency bill that will include tens of billions of dollars in matters that have absolutely nothing to do with the defense of the nation."
For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passing the Iraq spending bill looms as the first big legislative test of her leadership, and she strongly responded to GOP criticism of the extra spending:
"Are they talking about disaster assistance which they have refused to give to America's farmers, which is long overdue?" she asked. "Are they talking about the additional help of giving to our veterans ... of course the Republicans have been in denial about the needs of our veterans ... What in particular do they have a problem with? I don't know, but I'm very proud of the product we're putting forth."
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the Appropriations Committee chairman, has confessed the House Democrats' plan won't last five minutes in the Senate. But he says it's important to send a message to the Iraqi government.
And a Senate vote is the least of the worries for House Democrats. Facing united Republican opposition, Democrats in the House are focused on finding 218 of their members who support the measure — likely to come up for a vote next week.