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Bush Promises to Veto Iraq Deadline

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Bush Promises to Veto Iraq Deadline

Politics

Bush Promises to Veto Iraq Deadline

Bush Promises to Veto Iraq Deadline

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President Bush renews his vow to veto any spending bill for the war in Iraq that attempts to set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that if the timetable fails, he will move to cut off funding for the war by March 31 of next year.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The war of words between the White House and congressional Democrats escalated today. At a Rose Garden news conference, President Bush accused lawmakers of failing in their responsibility to fund U.S. troops in a time of war. With polls showing that a majority of Americans want the war over, leading Democrats have dug in their heels, insisting on legislation that calls for the war to wind down. We'll talk to one of those Democrats in a few minutes.

First, NPR's David Greene reports from the White House.

DAVID GREENE: The president invited reporters into the Rose Garden to stand and listen as he sent a new warning to Democrats. He said he is not satisfied with the war funding bill that passed narrowly in the House and Senate, and if a final piece of legislation looks anything like either of those bills he says he won't sign it. The Democrats demands for drawdowns and troop strength are, Mr. Bush said, nothing more than a political dance.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Democratic leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement, then they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to business of funding our troops without strings and without delay.

GREENE: Any delay, the president argued, will mean tough times for the military in general. They'll have to cut equipment and training programs, he says, meaning some Guard and Reserve forces might not be ready to go to Iraq. Now, Democrats had said he is being alarmist, and a non-partisan congressional study concluded that the Army has money to pay for operations in Iraq well into the summer.

But the president also argued that now is a crucial moment. He said Democrats are holding up money just as additional U.S. forces are making a difference. The president said that's the report from the top U.S. ground commander, David Petraeus.

President BUSH: And General Petraeus, who is a reasoned, sober man, says that there is some progress being made. And he cites, you know, murders and, you know, in other words, just some calm coming to the capital. But he also fully recognizes, as do I, it's still dangerous.

GREENE: More dangerous than the president admits, according to Democratic leaders in what they called a fat check released after Mr. Bush spoke. Democrats said Mr. Bush's troop surge isn't working and that 172 U.S. service members have been killed since the surge was ordered. Before finishing up in the Rose Garden, the president returned to a well-worn argument that the war in Iraq will help prevent another attack like 9/11.

President BUSH: You know, what's interesting is you don't hear a lot of debate about Washington as to what will happen if there is failure.

GREENE: If Mr. Bush does veto a war-spending bill, the finger pointing will begin between him and Democrats. This whole debate is beginning to sound a lot like the winter of 1995-96, when President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich sparred over who shut down the federal government.

President BILL CLINTON: Congress has said it will pass emergency legislation to keep the government going and paying its bills only if we increase Medicare, cut education, cut the environment, take other unacceptable steps.

Representative NEWT GINGRICH (Republican, Georgia): Now, one of the major problems in America is we have a president who doesn't mind playing, he doesn't mind talking, but he seems to hate working. We're working.

GREENE: A decade later, Democrats are in charge of Congress and don't seem to be backing down. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said if Mr. Bush cast a veto, he'll up the ante and push a vote on a bill to deny funds for combat troops as of this time next year.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

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Bush Blasts Democrats' War Funds Bill, Vows Veto

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President Bush used the bully pulpit in the Rose Garden Tuesday to renew his defense of his troop build-up in Iraq and repeat his vow to veto any spending bill for the war that contains a timetable for withdrawal.

At a White House news conference held on a sunny spring morning, Mr. Bush accused Democrats in Congress of being "more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need."

The House and Senate have approved separate measures to fund the war for the rest of the fiscal year, along with domestic programs that the president has derided as pork. Both measures also include a timeline for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

The House sets a firm deadline of Aug. 31, 2008, for all U.S. troops to be withdrawn, while the Senate sets an earlier but less stringent "goal" of March 31, 2008. The Senate bill also stipulates that the withdrawal begin within 120 days of the bill's enactment.

The president labeled the measures a political statement and said they were within the rights of Congress as such. He then urged Democratic congressional leaders to "send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible" when they return from their Easter recess.

"I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay," the president said.

Congress is likely to send the bill with a timetable to the president soon. But first, House and Senate members of the Appropriations committees must reconcile the two different versions of the bills, which won't happen until lawmakers return to Washington. The Senate is to resume work the week of April 9th, the House the following week. Neither chamber approved their own funding bills with anything close to the two-third majorities necessary to override a veto, so President Bush is sure to win the first round of the looming showdown.

But that will leave the military without the supplemental spending bill required to continue present operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What happens next, though, will be more significant and more difficult to predict.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have both given at least lip service to the notion of negotiating with the president on the issue of a troop withdrawal timeline. It's difficult to see Democrats in either chamber giving in to the president and sending him the clean bill he is seeking.

So the question is whether the two sides can find some kind of middle ground acceptable to both Democrats, who want troops back from Iraq tomorrow, and the president, who insists they stay until he judges their mission is complete.

A new element in the mixture was added on Monday, when Reid announced he was signing on to a bill sponsored by Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russell Feingold that calls for Congress to end funding for the war by the end of next March. That measure appears to go beyond what many Democrats (and nearly all Republicans) have been willing to support up to now. Yet Reid's move may be indicative of the direction his colleagues are heading.

At his news conference, President Bush also criticized House Speaker Pelosi for traveling to Syria, where she is scheduled to meet with President Bashar Assad on Wednesday. The president said he opposes all visits by high-ranking U.S. officials to Syria, because, he said, they "lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror."

Pelosi, whose visit to Syria follows that of three Republican members of Congress, had earlier shrugged off the White House criticism, saying it was an "excellent idea" for her and other lawmakers to go there.

"We have no illusions, but great hopes" for talks with Assad, Pelosi said. She also noted that contacts with Iraq's neighbors had been among the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group last year.