Reid, Bush Draw Lines on U.S. Iraq Policy

Democratic Senate leaders say they're willing to sit down with President Bush to work out something on the Iraq funding bill — but they also want a change in direction. The president says he is not negotiating.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

With the Senate back in session and the House returning next week, President Bush is again assailing Congress over funding the war in Iraq. He spoke today before a friendly audience at an American Legion post outside Washington. The president invited Democratic leaders to the White House to discuss the funding issue, but not to negotiate. They responded by saying, thanks, but no thanks.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: When we last left Congress, the Senate had approved a $120 billion measure to fund the war in Iraq for the rest of this fiscal year while calling for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq starting within four months. The House earlier passed a similar bill, stipulating that U.S. troops be out of Iraq by the end of August, 2008.

And that's pretty much where things stand. Lawmakers have been out of town until today, when the Senate returned to the capital. Meanwhile, President Bush has been using his bully pulpit to pummel Democrats and their timetables for troop withdrawal. He's also upset that they haven't sent that bill to him so he can veto it.

The president continued the attack today, arguing that the Pentagon was starting to run low on cash.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The Democrats who passed these bills know that I'll veto them, and they know that this veto will be sustained, yet they continue to pursue the legislation, and as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field. In other words, there are consequences for delaying this money.

NAYLOR: The president said the Pentagon will soon have to transfer some $1.6 billion from one account to another to pay for the war effort, and Mr. Bush invited lawmakers from both parties to meet with him next week at the White House.

Pres. BUSH: At this meeting the leaders in Congress can report on progress on getting an emergency spending bill to my desk. We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill, a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal and without handcuffing our generals on the ground.

NAYLOR: Democrats wasted little time turning down the president's invite. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it really wasn't much of an offer.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): The president is inviting us down to the White House with preconditions. That's not the way things should operate. The president is now having to deal with a Congress. He's never had to do that before.

NAYLOR: Reid said as a lawyer he was able to settle a lot of cases before going to trial, but Reid said the president doesn't seem all that interested.

Sen. REID: I've settled lots and lots of cases, but you never settle a case going in saying you can come and meet with me but here's what the result's going to be before we meet. That doesn't work, and the president has to realize it doesn't work in the practice of law, and it doesn't work in the business world, and it doesn't work in government.

NAYLOR: Democrats also rebutted the president's claims that the Pentagon was strapped for funds while Congress takes its time. The Congressional Research Service says the Pentagon has enough money to pay for the war through July.

It's unclear just when Congress will get the supplemental funding bill to the president for his long-promised veto. The House and Senate must first work out their differences on the measure, and that won't occur for another week at the earliest, and what happens after the veto remains uncertain. Senate Leader Reid says he'll push Democratic Senator Russell Feingold's measure cutting off funding for the troops in Iraq by next spring.

But other Democrats say Congress will eventually vote to fund the war, possibly replacing the timetable with still more benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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