Despite Pledge, Compromise Eludes Congress, BushThe Democratic Congress promised to work with the White House. But after four months, the rhetoric and the political atmosphere remain contentious. The latest example: the impasse over funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Bush's veto Tuesday evening of the Iraq war-spending bill tied to a deadline for withdrawal, and Democratic leaders' insistence on an end to the war, shows bipartisanship remains elusive.
Democrats promised voters after last fall's elections that there would be better cooperation across the aisle.
But there's little evidence that bipartisanship ever lived in Congress.
Soon after the elections, congressional leaders and President Bush were on the spin.
"The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in a civil matter," Mr. Bush said.
"Democrats pledge civility and bipartisanship in Congress," added House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
Added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada: "We will need to work with our friends on the Republican side of the aisle to reach some consensus."
And this from House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio: "Republicans and Democrats can disagree without being disagreeable."
Tuesday's veto emphasizes that things are lot different several months later.
"A veto means denying our troops the resources and the strategy that they need. After more than four years of a failed policy it's time for Iraq to take responsibility for its own future," Reid said Tuesday at a bill-signing ceremony.
Republicans struck back. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia called the Democrats' actions political theater.
"The Democrats are marking the 85th day they have held the emergency funding captive by holding an enrollment ceremony for a bill they know will be vetoed," said Cantor, chief deputy whip for the Republicans.
Both parties say their legislative work on the Iraq war is of the most solemn importance.
The problem, according to critics, is that they wield solemnity like a weapon rather than as a reason to come together and cooperate.
Earlier this week several Washington think-tanks got together to hold a kind of summit on bipartisanship. The Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania gathered scholars to dissect this thorny problem.
Thomas Mann of Brookings said the result depends on basic respect and civility.
"You have to be able to accept the legitimacy of the motives of those with whom you disagree, and you have to be willing to engage seriously in their arguments," Mann said, adding that there's little of that on Capitol Hill.
Boehner, who attended the conference, admitted that the wrangling over Iraq funding has proved to be a partisan stalemate.
"There is no debate. There is no conversation. We are talking past each other because we're talking about two completely different outcomes," he said.
President Bush has kept his promise to veto legislation that tied funding for military operations in Iraq to a timeline for U.S. troops to leave the country.
Bush accused Democrats of using the funding bill to foster a political point.
But Democratic leaders countered that the legislation, which ties $124 billion to pulling out troops starting in October — represented the will of the American people who want an end to an unpopular war.
The veto Tuesday evening was only the second time that Bush used such power. The first rejected federal funding for stem-cell research.
"I asked the Congress to pass an emergency war-spending bill that would provide our brave men and women in uniform with the funds and flexibility they need," he said. "Instead, members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders."
In a symbolic gesture, the president issued the veto using a pen that was given to him by the father of Marine Reserve Cpl. Dustin Derga of Columbus, Ohio. Derga was killed in fighting in Iraq's Anbar province two years ago this month.
Bush called the troop withdrawal deadline rigid and unacceptable as it would have required the pullout to begin no later than October 1, with a non-binding goal of all combat troops out of Iraq by March 31.
"It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing. All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength, and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq," he said.
Calling a deadline for withdrawal is the same as setting a date for failure Bush said his new strategy, including increasing the size of the U.S. force in Iraq, needs time to work. He warned that if funding isn't approved soon the military will begin to face shortfalls.
But there was symbolism for the Democrats as well. They sent the funding bill to the president on the fourth anniversary of his declaring an end to combat operations in Iraq while standing in front of a banner that read "Mission Accomplished."
For his critics it's a moment that underscores how wrong the President has been about the war from the beginning.
Democrats insisted that the bill they sent to the White House reflected what the American people want.
"The president may be content with keeping our troops mired in the middle of an open-ended civil war, but we're not, and neither are most Americans," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the legislation contained the money the troops and the mission need, and that it's Bush who's stalling the process.
"The president wants a blank check. The Congress is not going to give it to him," Pelosi said.