WASHINGTON – Momentum is growing on Capitol Hill behind a compromise that would break the current gridlock over Iraq war funding, and provide some of the money for the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that the administration has been seeking since February.
Democrats have been stymied by Republicans in their efforts to move a $50 billion plan, essentially playing budgetary game of chicken with the White House. The Democrats' plan has made enemies over a troop withdrawal date for December 2008 as well as stricter interrogation rules for the CIA that would prevent the use of waterboarding.
The administration has sought $196 billion, with no strings attached. With no money, the administration has warned that it will have to send layoff notices in the coming days to hundreds of thousands of civilian workers in the Defense Department.
In a tactical shift, Democrats appear ready to signing onto a short-term compromise.
Under the plan being discussed, it appears that at least some money for the Defense Department would make its way into the end-of-year, must-pass omnibus spending bill that will lump together 11 of the 12 annual spending bills.
The money, however, would not specifically be tied to Iraq war costs in the fine print, although lawmakers say it would be available for such spending, giving everyone some breathing room. The provision is necessary so Democrats — edgy of anything giving the administration it wants when it comes to Iraq — would not have to say they voted for Iraq funding without conditions.
"We will have an omnibus bill and it will address some of the concerns that have been raised," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
"There probably will be some level of addressing Afghanistan, some of the domestic concerns about child care. You have seen the list that the DoD has come up with. We can address those concerns and certainly perhaps if more is needed to do something about Afghanistan. But that's all," she added.
Several Democrats have told Fox that negotiations are intensely ongoing at the highest levels to provide some money for Defense Department that would not be specifically designated for Iraq.
The compromise comes as Democrats are increasingly concerned and angry about the rhetoric from Pentagon and White House officials — who are threatening pink slips just before Christmas for the civilian workers on military bases, many of whom are union workers, a safety constituency for Democrats.
Key leaders also appear miffed that the cries for money are coming after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said behind close doors, in classified session, that the war funding was sufficient to carry the military through February 2008.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters: "The only way [civil service workers] would be pink-slipped is because of the meanness of the White House."
Reid met with White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and Office of Management and Budget chief Jim Nussle Wednesday night.
"Everything was on the table in that meeting," Reid said. "We're working to get our spending bills complete. If there's money in that for war fighting, we will look at it."
Pelosi said Democrats were looking into layoff numbers now, but a senior Democratic leadership aide tells FOX that Reid and Pelosi are trying to keep the negotiating circle very small and that nothing has yet been agreed to.
"I do think the funding will get in," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who sits on the Senate Appropriations panel.
Whether Republicans will lend their support remains to be seen.
Senate Republican leadership aides say that so far Democrats have not offered enough money, but they hold out hope the money will be provided.
One senior aide confirmed to FOX that the money that's being offered could be used in any way the Pentagon sees fit, including for Iraq.
"It's all fungible. Democrats just need to get more money on the table," the aide said.