Bush, Democrats Plot Next Moves in Iraq Standoff

Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. i

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), standing next to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), makes a statement Tuesday reacting to President Bush's veto of the appropriations bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) makes a statement reacting to President George W. Bush's veto of the appropriations bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democratic leaders (from left) Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) stand with the speaker.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

One day after President Bush followed through on his threat to veto an Iraq spending bill, attention has turned back to Capitol Hill and the prospect of compromise legislation.

Publicly, both the White House and congressional Democrats dug in their heels, accusing each other of engaging in "public stunts."

President Bush, in a nationally televised speech from the White House on Tuesday night, said he vetoed the legislation because it was "a prescription for chaos and confusion."

In a speech Wednesday morning, the president showed little appetite for compromise, repeating his opposition to any legislation that sets a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq.

"It didn't make any sense to impose the will of politicians over the recommendations of our military commanders in the field," Mr. Bush said of the legislation.

Congressional Democrats showed no sign of giving ground, either.

"If the president thinks that by vetoing this bill he'll stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Behind the scenes, though, both sides are trying to craft some sort of compromise legislation that would continue to fund the troops in the field.

Congressional Democrats on Wednesday failed to muster the two-thirds majority of votes needed to override the president's veto. The finally vote tally was 222-203. Afterward, President Bush hosted congressional leaders from both parties at the White House to discuss a new version of the bill. The question now is what President Bush and the Democrats are each willing to give up in order to strike a deal.

"Yesterday was a day that highlighted differences," Mr. Bush said. "Today is the day where we can work together to find common ground."

The solution, some congressional aides say, may hinge on the issue of benchmarks — goalposts of political progress that the Iraqi government would have to meet.

"You've asked me if there is an area where there's a potential common ground," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, "and I think benchmarks are a possibility."

Some congressional Republicans support such benchmarks, and the White House has been careful to leave the door open to that possibility. The key question, though, is whether those benchmarks would be binding. In other words, would there be consequences for the Iraqi government if it should fail to meet them?

Democrats appear to have public opinion on their side. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that 59 percent of Americans want the Iraq war spending bill to include a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal.

There is still time to hammer out a compromise, but not much: The Pentagon has the necessary funds to finance the war in Iraq until June.

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