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Nevada lawmakers differ on shaping Iraq compromise

WASHINGTON — In the wake of a rare presidential veto, congressional leaders and the White House began grappling for compromise Wednesday over strategy and spending for the Iraq war.

Nevada federal lawmakers vary on how an acceptable compromise should be shaped.

Republicans in the state’s delegation insist that Congress pass legislation approving more than $100 billion to continue the war while stripping out timelines or goals for troop withdrawals.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., predicted troop withdrawal timelines most likely will be excised from a bill that President Bush vetoed on Tuesday.

At the same time, she said, Democrats and a number of Republicans will continue to argue for the Iraqi government to be held to performance benchmarks in taking over the fight against insurgents and warring religious factions, and in shaping a new society.

“We will agree to benchmarks and expectations that we have of the Iraqi government,” Berkley said. “We need to see a little bit more from our Iraqi friends.”

Berkley said it may not be necessary to set penalties if the Iraqis do not meet benchmarks. If the war continues to generate bad news into this fall, she maintained Republicans will become politically vulnerable and insist that President Bush end the U.S. effort.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said Democrats are winning the “politics” of the war, based on public opinion polls that have supported the United States decreasing its involvement in Iraq.

“But that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do,” Ensign said.

Ensign has opposed setting timetables for U.S. troop withdrawals, but said he would accept holding the Iraqis to certain performance benchmarks.

Specifically, Ensign has promoted that U.S. funding for war reconstruction be tied to the performance of the Iraqis to institute reforms.

“Timelines are a terrible idea, but let’s set these benchmarks up,” said Ensign, who repeatedly has argued a key to success in Iraq is through economic development and business opportunities for the Iraqi people.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada along with other Democrat and Republican congressional leaders met with Bush at the White House on Wednesday to begin a new round of negotiations.

Talking to reporters afterward, Reid said the goal for new legislation “takes care of the troops, has language in it that has the Iraqis take care of their own country, transitions the mission that is now ongoing, and, finally, shows a reasonable way to end this war.”

Reid said he will keep up pressure on Bush to end the Iraq war.

“The ball is in the president’s court,” Reid said in a speech earlier in the day. “He has to come forward with something to satisfy the Democrats and a significant number of Republicans.”

There has to be a change of direction in that war,” he said.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said his only “show stopper” in any compromise bill are troop withdrawal timelines that he said he strongly opposes.

“My goal at this point is just to wait to see what leadership on both sides brings back,” Heller said. “I don’t want to set specific benchmarks and tie myself to those.”

Rep, Jon Porter, R-Nev., said he will oppose anything short of a “clean” bill that does not contain benchmarks, timelines, or add-on spending for domestic projects.

The $124.2 billion bill legislation that Bush vetoed included $21 billion for a variety of other programs including disaster relief for farmers and Hurricane Katrina victims, pandemic flu preparations and veterans health care.

Porter said he is open to setting up “indicators” to measure whether Iraqis are meeting social, educational and economic goals, but only separately and not as part of a bill aimed at funding U.S. troops.

Porter said his position was shaped by three trips he has taken to Iraq.

“I have been there more times than any member of the delegation,” Porter said. “I have been with the troops in the trenches, in the helicopters and in mortar attacks. I believe our troops are up for the mission.”

Washington Bureau writer Tony Batt contributed to this report.

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