Bush Repeats Threat to Veto Iraq Spending Bill

Speaking at the White House, President Bush repeats his threat to veto an Iraq war spending bill that includes a timetable for the withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq. Congressional Democrats agreed Monday to a bill that would require troops to begin leaving Iraq on Oct. 1.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's the latest on the impasse between Congress and the White House over war funding. Democrats say they have agreed on a demand for President Bush. They want to send him a war-funding bill that includes a goal to start withdrawing troops by October, which led to this statement by the president today.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: They know I'm (unintelligible) to veto a bill containing these provisions and they know that my veto will be sustained. But instead of fashioning a bill I could sign, the Democratic leaders chose to further delay funding our troops, and they chose to make a political statement.

NPR White House correspondent David Greene was listening to the president -joins us now.

David, how do these two side end up with such different views? You have the president saying there's progress in Iraq, you have the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, saying the war is lost.

DAVID GREENE: Well, they're using a lot of rhetoric, Steve, and - but it seems like, you know, the difference is really a matter of emphasis. The president when he's talked about this, you know, yesterday, today - he says that there are horrific bombings in Iraq. But that despite that, despite these images on American television screens, overall he believes there's been a drop in sectarian violence. You listen to someone like Senate majority leader Harry Reid. He says that American casualties have been going up since the troop surge. He says that several million refugees have been forced out of the country, and he talked about the horrific bombings - much more than the president does.

So they're talking about the same events but putting emphasis in different places. The president is adding that what his military people on the ground are saying is that, overall, there has been progress. So far what Americans are seeing are again these bombings in the television screens.

INSKEEP: Any one for compromise here?

GREENE: It's not clear, you know, it was interesting; the president said that he is willing to sit down with Democrats and talk this out before he vetoes something. In the past, he has said, you know, send me this bill, I'll veto it and then we'll start talking. So the president is opening a door at least to compromise a bit. Democrats have shown no sign that they're going to sit down with the president. Their belief is that Mr. Bush just wants to tell him how he feels, that he won't accept any sort of timetable for withdrawal and not compromise at all beyond that.

So I think so far, the signs that we're getting, both sides want to spend some time right now with a lot of hot rhetoric. They're both benefiting from escalating this confrontation, but at some point, they'll have to compromise. It's just not clear who's going to blink first.

INSKEEP: Well, the point of view of the White House might be summarized this way - they're basically saying Democrats are not being serious. They're making a political point, they don't really mean it, so let's get this over with and then we can actually get serious. What happens if it gets to that point where you're actually getting serious for the Democrats and you find out they mean what they say - if that is in fact the case?

GREENE: Well, you got it exactly right. I mean, what the White House hopes is that Americans see the president as the commander in chief who is doing his job leading a war effort, and he's being bothered by these politicians on Capitol Hill who want to hamstring the military generals.

What Democrats are saying is look, we just had an election where the American people, the majority, said they're against this war, they're against the president's policies, and what lawmakers and Democrats want people to realize that they are speaking for the American people. Now, where it goes from here, it's not clear. What we know is that when there have been a lot of bombings and when the president has come out with that backdrop and made the argument that the war is going well. So far, Americans haven't necessarily believed him. He hasn't been able to move public opinion. Whether that changes, we're just going to have to see as this goes forward.

INSKEEP: Is there any indication that Democrats might be willing, after a veto, to say okay, we tried, let's pass the war funding at this point?

GREENE: Maybe, it'll have to depend on whether they're satisfied with the political move that they've made so far and whether they sent their message or not.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent David Greene. And once again, the president repeated today his vow to veto a $124-billion spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason is because Democrats say when that bill is sent to the White House, it will include a provision, a goal, to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by October - something the president says he cannot accept.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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