Veto Awaits Iraq Funding Bill with Troop Timeline

The $124 billion supplemental bill to fund the war in Iraq is on its way to President Bush. He has vowed to veto it because it includes a timeline for troop withdrawals. The measure has brought a week of angry exchanges between the White House and Congressional Democrats.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is on assignment. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The Iraq war spending bill is on its way to President Bush, who is likely to send it right back to Congress. That's because it would require U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq no later than October 1st, something the president says he will not accept.

NPR's Brian Naylor has been following this bill as it moves through Congress and toward the president's desk. He joins us now. Brian, good morning.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do Democrats have to gain by sending the president a bill he says he's going to reject anyway?

NAYLOR: Well there's a couple of reasons why they've been so determined to move on this legislation. First, many were elected in November because of the unpopularity of the war in Iraq and they feel it's their duty to oppose it. And there's also a sense, I think, among Democratic leaders that it's time to challenge the president about this; that after his six years with a Republican Congress, Democrats say it's time for Congress to stand up and be a co-equal branch of government and challenge the president over what they say is a failed policy in Iraq. For instance, here's Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts during yesterday's debate.

Senator TED KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): The president is wrong to threaten to veto this legislation. He was wrong to get us into this war, wrong to conduct it so poorly, wrong to ignore the views of the American people, and wrong to accuse those of us who are working to change course as harming our troops.

INSKEEP: Senator Ted Kennedy, one of the voices in this debate. We're talking with NPR's Brian Naylor. And Brian, what do Republicans say?

NAYLOR: I think Republicans feel that, a couple of things, they feel is essential for the U.S. to continue the fight in Iraq. They say that Iraq has become a base for al-Qaida, and that the surge should be given a chance, more of a chance to show results. And they're also trying to score political points. They've been repeating a charge that the withdrawal timetable sets a surrender date and the favorite Republican charge - the Democrats are weak on national security.

Here's Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah yesterday.

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): I believe Winston Churchill would have characterized a Democratic strategy as guaranteed defeat. Is this resolve? Is this determination to see our commitments through? No, this is the worst case of capitulation to appeasement since Neville Chamberlain spoke the words, peace in our time.

NAYLOR: But, Steve, you know, many Republicans are concerned about the Iraqi government's failure to bridge the sectarian differences and the continuing difficulties with the war. They're losing faith in the Maliki government. And one, Susan Collins of Maine said yesterday, you know, she's up for reelection next year, she says that she's giving the surge until August to show results and might consider supporting a withdrawal timeline if there is progress by then, and I think more Republicans are moving in that direction.

INSKEEP: So I'm trying to figure this out here, Brian. This timeline is attached to a spending bill to pay for the war, which presumably has to pass at some point. So what happens next?

NAYLOR: Well I think next week we'll see the rest of this dance, this well choreographed dance be played out. The president will veto it. There's likely to be some kind of a veto ceremony. And then the House is going to try to override. They know they don't have the votes, but again they want to reinforce their political point. And then that's where the interesting part begins. And there is no consensus really. There's some support from Republicans for a bill that would set out some benchmarks for the government to meet. Democrats are up in the air. Some want to just send the president what he wants, a so-called clean bill, but I think that's the least likely option. Another option is to put forward a bill that funds the troops for, say, two months and force the president to come back and ask for more funds after that, and that would reignite this whole debate once again. But that's something Democrats believe works to their advantage. But again, as I say, there's no real consensus about what happens next. Democrats - Senate Democrats are holding a retreat in New York this weekend, and undoubtedly that will be at the top of their agenda.

INSKEEP: Brian, good talking with you again.

NAYLOR: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brian Naylor, who covers Congress for us.

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