Bush Threatens to Veto Democrats' Iraq Plan

By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 9, 2007

Bush administration officials escalated the fight over a new spending package for the Iraq war yesterday, saying for the first time that the president will veto a House Democratic plan because it includes a timetable to start bringing troops home within a year and would undermine military efforts.

The veto threat came as House and Senate Democrats announced aggressive new measures to narrow U.S. involvement in Iraq, although party leaders acknowledged that their members are far from united on the efforts. Liberals want to start troop withdrawals immediately, but more conservative members worry that they are micromanaging the war, and House leaders have been struggling to come up with a compromise.

The House spending bill could lead to troop withdrawals before the end of the year and would end combat duties by Aug. 31, 2008. To help win votes in both parties, Democratic leaders have included billions of dollars in new spending for military health care and would redirect some money to the fight in Afghanistan.

In the Senate, Democratic leaders proposed a joint resolution, intended for consideration in the House as well, that would limit the authority Congress gave President Bush in 2002 to invade Iraq. It would require that troops start returning home within four months of passage and sets March 31, 2008, as a goal for withdrawing most troops. But it would require Republican votes to overcome parliamentary obstacles from GOP leaders.

That has left the fate of both measures far from certain. What is more, although public support for the war has plummeted, Republicans have remained remarkably united behind Bush and an open-ended Iraq commitment.

White House counselor Dan Barlett told reporters aboard Air Force One, as the president left for a six-day trip to Latin America, that the House's $105 billion spending package is tailored more to solving infighting among Democrats over how to proceed on the war than in helping troops on the ground.

"It's safe to say it's a nonstarter for the president," Bartlett said.

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has been in negotiations with divergent House factions all week, was dismissive of Bush's threat. "Never confine your best work, your hopes, your dreams, the aspirations of the American people to what will be signed by George W. Bush, because that is too limiting a factor," she said.

In the Senate, the challenge will be to overcome Republican parliamentary obstacles that will force Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to find 60 votes in a chamber he controls by a 51 to 49 margin. When Reid went to the floor yesterday evening to introduce the resolution, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was ready with an objection, to slow the debate before if starts.

Democrats hope to thwart the GOP strategy by granting votes on three Republican alternative measures. "We sincerely hope, this time, when we are offering the amendments, which they have asked for before, that they will join us in a bipartisan debate, one that America is ready for," Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

Despite the obstacles ahead, both Democratic efforts represent an unprecedented attempt to change the course of the conflict, entering its fifth year. Democratic unity is not absolute, especially in the House, where the antiwar left wants to take tougher steps, and conservative Democrats would prefer to tread more carefully. But when Reid unveiled the resolution yesterday, he was flanked by colleagues from both the left and right in his party.

"I look forward to even stronger steps," said Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.), a leading antiwar Democrat. "But this is a major moment in the history of ending the Iraq war."

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