Progressive opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to give President Bush the money he seeks to maintain the war in Iraq for at least another year — but to attach benchmarks and a timeline designed to make it easier to ultimately end the war — went into collapse Thursday.

Four key members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who had been among the more outspoken critics of the Pelosi plan, agreed to back off after meetings with the speaker.

“After two grueling weeks of meetings, progressive members of Congress brought forth an agreement that provided the momentum to pass a supplemental spending bill that, for the first time, establishes a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq,” California Democrats Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, Maxine Waters and Diane Watson said in a statement released late in the day.

Lee and Woolsey co-chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Waters is a founder of the bipartisan Out of Iraq Caucus.

All four had objected that the Pelosi bill asked too little of the president and allowed the war to go on for too long.

But, as it became clear that their opposition might prevent passage of the spending bill and hand a preceived victory to the president, the progressives bagan to waver.

Waters said that she and her allies would no longer encourage anti-war Democrats to oppose the Pelosi plan. “We have released people who were beginning…to be pulled in a different direction,” she was reported as explaining. “We don’t want them to be put in a position where they look like they are undermining Nancy’s speakership.”

For Lee, the decision to effectively encourage support for Pelosi’s plan was particularly tough. She cast the sole vote against authorizing Bush to mount a military response to the 9-11 attacks in 2001, and she has consistently opposed every step to initiate and expand the Iraq War. “I have struggled with this decision, but I finally decided that, while I cannot betray my conscience, I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war,” Lee was quoted as saying by the online magzaine The Politico.

The shift by Lee, who last week voted against advancing the Pelosi plan as part of the deliberations by the Appropriations Committee, is especially significant. It is likely to free up a number of other anti-war Democrats in the House to vote with Pelosi.

Where does this leave the debate over the bill?

Most Republicans will oppose it, as will a handful of Democrats — some of them Blue Dog conservatives who support the war, some of them anti-war progressives such as Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

But with most of the key players on the anti-war flank of the Democratic caucus in the House signing on, Pelosi’s proposal now appears far more likely to be passed than it did just a few days ago. It needs 218 votes, and there is a distinct possibility that the votes of Lee, Waters, Watson and Woolsey could secure its success.

Bush continues to promise a veto of any such measure.

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