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WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders reiterated Thursday that while Iraq will be a major legislative issue next year, calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops won’t be a top priority.

Drew Hammill, spokesman for the Democratic House leadership, said the caucus has not made any definite decisions or legislation with regards to operations in Iraq, even though the military has been a major focus already.

“We’re looking at doubling the size of special forces, and looking to do more to rebuild our armed forces,” he said. “But we’ve never committed to anything dealing with redeployments.”

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Democratic aides on Capitol Hill had said that “an undetermined number of troops to come home immediately” would be the first order of business for the new Congress next year.

Prior to the election Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., publicly outlined the “first 100 hours” if the House were to be won by the Democrats. The list mentions “phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq” next year and calls the current administration strategy for Iraq “failed” but offers no further specifics.

The list included enacting more of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission, raising the minimum wage, cutting student loan interest rates and enacting ethics reforms for representatives.

Pelosi has publicly backed plans by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., calling for an immediate withdrawal of some troops from Iraq. But Hammill said that is a personal viewpoint by the congresswoman, not the House Democrat plan.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., issued a noncommittal statement Thursday on whether the Democrats wanted to start bringing U.S. troops home.

“We believe it is time to responsibly redeploy our troops and transform the mission to training, counter-terror, logistics, and force protection,” said Jim Manley.

Aksed to comment on the AP story, U.S. Sen. Joe R. Biden Jr., D-Delaware, said lawmakers have a ‘narrow window” to gain a consensus on Iraq.

“Staying the course would be terrible for the national interest. It also happens to be against the political interests of both parties. Republicans don’t want to run in 2008 with Iraq around their necks. Democrats don’t want to assume the White House in 2009 saddled with a losing war,” Biden said in an statement on Thursday.

In fact, a number of Democrat representatives — including the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer — have opposed such plans.

In a Wednesday news conference, the man expected to take over the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said next year he will revive his proposal from fall 2005 to redeploy one U.S. brigade out of Iraq when any three Iraqi combat brigades are able to fight independently, as determined by coalition forces.

He said he will make sure that the idea will be discussed by the armed services committee next year, but would not say pulling troops out of the country would be their top priority.

“On all issues, we’re going to reserve rushing to judgment,” he said. “We’ve not had hearings on many things, and that’s where members learn about issues and make up their minds.”

On Thursday, President Bush implored Congress to finish up their work on a number of fiscal 2007 spending bills “with strong fiscal discipline, and without diminishing our capacity to fight the war on terror.”

Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report from the Pentagon.


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