Timetable Prompts Veto of War Funds Bill As promised, President Bush rejects a bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because it included a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. The president frames the measure as political maneuvering. Democrats say they're trying to honor the wishes of voters.
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Timetable Prompts Veto of War Funds Bill

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Timetable Prompts Veto of War Funds Bill

Timetable Prompts Veto of War Funds Bill

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. Renee Montagne is in Great Britain reporting on climate change. I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington, where all that talk about working together has pretty much evaporated.

Republicans and Democrats spoke of cooperation after last fall's election. But on issues like Iraq the differences appear too great for now.

In a moment, we'll ask what became of all the rhetoric about a fresh start. We begin with the bill on Iraq that Congress passed, that President Bush vetoed, and that lawmakers will soon vote upon again. It was a measure to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while starting to bring troops home.

Here's NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: Official news of the veto came just before 6:00 PM Eastern Time. Moments later, the president stood in the grand Cross Hall of the White House, the sunlit Jefferson Memorial visible off in the distance through a window behind him.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: 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. Instead, members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders.

GONYEA: In a symbolic gesture, the president issued the veto using a pen that was given to him by the father of Marine Reserve Corporal Dustin Derga of Columbus, Ohio. Derga was killed in fighting in Iraq's Anbar province two years ago this month. Mr. Bush called the bill's troop withdrawal deadline rigid and unacceptable. It would have required the pullout to begin no later than October first of this year with a non-binding goal of all combat troops being out of Iraq by next March 31st.

President BUSH: 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.

GONYEA: Calling a withdrawal deadline the same as setting a date for failure, the president said his new strategy, including an increase in the size of the U.S. force in Iraq, mostly aimed at securing Baghdad, needs time to work. And he warned that if funding isn't approved soon, the military will begin to face shortfalls.

There was symbolism for the Democrats yesterday as well. They sent the funding bill to the president on the fourth anniversary of his 2003 speech on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. That's when he declared major combat operations in Iraq to be over. He spoke in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner on that day.

For his critics, it's a moment that underscores how wrong the president has been about the war from the beginning.

Democrats insisted yesterday that the bill they sent to the White House reflected what the American people want. Senate Leader Harry Reid.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): 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.

GONYEA: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Reid at the Capitol building both before and after the president issued his veto. She stressed that the legislation contained the money the troops and the mission need. And, she said, it's the president who was obstructing those funds.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): This bill supports the troops. In fact, it gives the president more than he asked for for our troops. And well they deserve it. They have done their duties excellently, and they have done everything that has been asked of them. All of this without, in some cases, the training, the equipment, and a plan for success for them. The president wants a blank check. The Congress is not going to give it to him.

GONYEA: This morning, the House will attempt to override the veto and will not have nearly the two-thirds margin required. So work will begin on a new piece of legislation, one that may feature so-called benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. That's an idea many Republicans in Congress have found attractive, even if the White House says benchmarks may be just another word for deadline. The president and the Democratic congressional leadership will meet at the White House this afternoon to begin working on a way to fund the troops. But as Speaker Pelosi put it yesterday: For now, there is a great distance between them.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, The White House.

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