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Iraq war spending bill moves closer to passage

WASHINGTON -- Flinching in the face of a veto threat, Democratic congressional leaders neared agreement with the Bush administration yesterday on legislation to pay for the Iraq war without a troop withdrawal timeline.

Several officials said the emerging $120 billion compromise would include as much as $8 billion for Democratic domestic priorities -- originally resisted by the White House -- such as disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina victims and farmers hurt by drought.

The bill would also include the first increase in the federal minimum wage in more than a decade. Both the House and Senate have passed measures raising the current level of $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour in three separate 70-cent increases over 26 months. Those measures included modest tax breaks, mainly aimed at helping businesses that hire low-skilled or handicapped workers.

After a bruising veto struggle in which Bush vetoed one Democratic-drafted measure and threatened to reject another, congressional leaders in both political parties said they hoped the compromise would be cleared for President Bush's signature by Friday.

In power less than five months, Democrats coupled their war-related concession with a vow to challenge Bush's policies anew, and quickly.

"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," said Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Lawmakers in both parties claimed victory in legislation that contained no binding limitation on Bush's powers as commander in chief.

"I view this as the beginning of the end of the president's policy on Iraq in this war," said Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois. "It ends the blank check of more troops, more money, more time, and more of the same. And it begins the notion that we have to have a new direction to Iraq that has accountability, standards that you can measure progress and not."

Despite the Democratic claims of success, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she is unlikely to vote for the war money because it lacks "a goal or a timetable" for a troop withdrawal.

In all, officials said the measure included about $17 billion more than Bush initially requested. Of the $17 billion, about $9 billion would go for defense-related items and veterans' healthcare. The balance would be for other domestic programs.

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