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White House, Congress Negotiate over Iraq Bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to the press at the White House after meeting with President Bush.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to the press at the White House after meeting with President Bush.

President Bush sends Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten to Congress for negotiations on a new spending bill to fund United States military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House of Representatives failed Wednesday to override President Bush's veto of funding legislation that contained a timeline for beginning troop withdrawals from Iraq.

The 222 to 203 House vote was 62 shy of the required two-thirds majority needed to override the president's veto. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that was a good thing. The bill sent to the president, he claimed, almost mandated failure in Iraq.

"I think it's time for us to work across the aisle to produce a clean bill that the president can sign into law to sustain our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, to make sure that, at the end of the day, we have victory," Boehner said.


What constitutes victory is not clear. Although President Bush set the bar for success in Iraq at a new low in a statement he made Wednesday to a group of building contractors.

"Success is not 'no violence.' There are parts of our own country that, you know, have got, you know, a certain level of violence to it," Mr. Bush said. "But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that's what we're trying to achieve."

The president had congressional leaders over to the White House, shortly after the veto override vote failed, to talk about a new war-spending bill. Before leaving the Capitol to see the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had a few fighting words to say: "The president wants a blank check. The congress will not give it to him."

Still, Pelosi smiled graciously as she and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) sat down with President Bush, who sounded upbeat before starting their closed-door meeting.

"I'm confident that we can reach agreement. But I know that this is going to require good will," the president said.


Later, in the White House driveway, Majority Leader Reid said his message to the president was that he wanted to work with him and his people to find a reasonable way to end the war.

"It's not going to be easy, but it's important. And I said to the president that it's very clear that the number-one issue is Iraq," Reid said. "Don't talk about the other things in this emergency spending bill. Iraq is the issue we must be concerned about."

Another Democrat at the meeting said the president seemed open to discussing a spending bill with benchmarks for political progress in Iraq. Back at the Capitol, the Senate's number-two Republican, Trent Lott (R-MS), said such benchmarks could be the key to a deal.

"I think Republicans, and the president, are amenable to some benchmarks, provided they don't slop over into trying to … dictate to the commander in chief, or the commanders on the ground," Lott said.

Whatever form the benchmarks take, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said they have to be meaningful.

"Obviously, the president would prefer a straight funding bill, with no benchmarks, no conditions, no reports," Collins said. "Many of us on both sides of the aisle don't see that as viable and think that we should be sitting down with the Democrats, and with the administration, at this point and try to work out a compromise."

The Senate's number-two Democrat, Dick Durbin (D-IL), says Thursday's talks with White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten are an important step to reaching a deal.

"We'll have an idea of what the president would consider. Today he could've made an offer. He didn't," Durbin said. "But I think Josh Bolten has been given the authority to come in with an offer."

Durbin says he hopes this new war-funding bill, however it comes out, will be on the president's desk by Memorial Day.

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