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Bush Blasts Democrats' War Funds Bill, Vows Veto

President Bush used the bully pulpit in the Rose Garden Tuesday to renew his defense of his troop build-up in Iraq and repeat his vow to veto any spending bill for the war that contains a timetable for withdrawal.

At a White House news conference held on a sunny spring morning, Mr. Bush accused Democrats in Congress of being "more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need."

The House and Senate have approved separate measures to fund the war for the rest of the fiscal year, along with domestic programs that the president has derided as pork. Both measures also include a timeline for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.


The House sets a firm deadline of Aug. 31, 2008, for all U.S. troops to be withdrawn, while the Senate sets an earlier but less stringent "goal" of March 31, 2008. The Senate bill also stipulates that the withdrawal begin within 120 days of the bill's enactment.

The president labeled the measures a political statement and said they were within the rights of Congress as such. He then urged Democratic congressional leaders to "send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible" when they return from their Easter recess.

"I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay," the president said.

Congress is likely to send the bill with a timetable to the president soon. But first, House and Senate members of the Appropriations committees must reconcile the two different versions of the bills, which won't happen until lawmakers return to Washington. The Senate is to resume work the week of April 9th, the House the following week. Neither chamber approved their own funding bills with anything close to the two-third majorities necessary to override a veto, so President Bush is sure to win the first round of the looming showdown.

But that will leave the military without the supplemental spending bill required to continue present operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.


What happens next, though, will be more significant and more difficult to predict.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have both given at least lip service to the notion of negotiating with the president on the issue of a troop withdrawal timeline. It's difficult to see Democrats in either chamber giving in to the president and sending him the clean bill he is seeking.

So the question is whether the two sides can find some kind of middle ground acceptable to both Democrats, who want troops back from Iraq tomorrow, and the president, who insists they stay until he judges their mission is complete.

A new element in the mixture was added on Monday, when Reid announced he was signing on to a bill sponsored by Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russell Feingold that calls for Congress to end funding for the war by the end of next March. That measure appears to go beyond what many Democrats (and nearly all Republicans) have been willing to support up to now. Yet Reid's move may be indicative of the direction his colleagues are heading.

At his news conference, President Bush also criticized House Speaker Pelosi for traveling to Syria, where she is scheduled to meet with President Bashar Assad on Wednesday. The president said he opposes all visits by high-ranking U.S. officials to Syria, because, he said, they "lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror."

Pelosi, whose visit to Syria follows that of three Republican members of Congress, had earlier shrugged off the White House criticism, saying it was an "excellent idea" for her and other lawmakers to go there.

"We have no illusions, but great hopes" for talks with Assad, Pelosi said. She also noted that contacts with Iraq's neighbors had been among the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group last year.

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