The Democrats Back Down On Iraq

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The decision by congressional Democrats to back off their demand for troop withdrawal deadlines in the Iraq spending bill was seen by the morning newspapers as a defeat for anti-war Democrats and a rare victory for the White House.

The New York Times called it "a wrenching reversal for leading Democrats, who saw their election triumph in November as a call to force an end to the war."

The compromise agreement will include benchmarks the Iraqi government must meet in order to continue to receive U.S. reconstruction aid – although President Bush will be allowed to waive those restrictions. It was also expected to include unrelated spending for Democratic priorities like a minimum wage hike and Gulf Coast hurricane relief.

Still, the Washington Post said the president would be required "to surrender virtually none of his war authority," and called the final bill "a victory" for Mr. Bush "in a debate that has roiled Congress for months."

Meanwhile, the Post also reports that work is nearing completion on a new, "post-surge" strategy for Iraq that stresses a political solution to the country's sectarian violence over a military one.

The classified plan is being worked on by top U.S. commanders and diplomats in Iraq, and scheduled to be finished by May 31. Its main goal, the Post says, is to negotiate agreements between rival factions in Iraq from the national level down to the local level.

"In essence, it is as much about the political deals needed to defuse a civil war as about the military operations aimed at quelling a complex insurgency," the Post said, citing officials with knowledge of the plan.

The plan calls for maintaining elevated U.S. troop levels into 2008, while also significantly increasing the size of the Iraq army.

Whither Ethics Reform?

Democrats took control of Congress in January promising an overhaul of lobbying rules following a series of ethics scandals. But since becoming the majority party, they're finding that changing the way politics is conducted on Capitol Hill is easier said than done.

The New York Times reports that House Democratic leaders are running into resistance from "balky lawmakers" and "fending off accusations that a prominent member is flouting new ethics rules."

The Times says Democrats were forced to back off a promise to double the current one-year ban on lobbying by lawmakers once they leave office. They're also struggling to pass a bill that would require lobbyists to reveal campaign donations they collect and deliver, or "bundle," to lawmakers.

Even some rules changes they have managed to pass "appear to have done little to alter business as usual." Only a party-line vote spared powerful Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania a censure for violating a new ethics rule that bans members from "swapping pork for votes."

The Times says Republicans, who were pounded by Democrats in the last election over charges of corruption, are reveling in the reversal of fortune.

Hospitals' Deadly Secrets Revealed

One of the most closely guarded secrets in American medicine will soon be made public.

USA Today reports that thanks to a bold federal initiative, hospital death rates will be disclosed on a government Web site starting in June.

Most hospitals have guarded their death rates as closely as "the formulas for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coke." But next month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will begin posting a comparison of death rates for heart attack and heart failure at more than 4,000 U.S. hospitals on its Web site, Hospital Compare.

According to confidential data obtained by USA Today, the government's analysis contains some alarming findings suggesting that which hospital you choose may be a life or death decision. For example, the study found 42 hospitals where patients were more likely to die from heart attacks and heart failure than those who went elsewhere. At one hospital, the heart attack death rate was 24 percent, which topped the national rate by nearly 10 percentage points.

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