Bush Derides Iraq War Measure

By Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 29, 2007

In his most combative comments yet, President Bush mocked Democratic lawmakers yesterday for including a deadline for troop withdrawals and "pork" projects in an Iraq spending bill, declaring that "the American people will know who to hold responsible" if funding for the war stalls.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shot back that Bush's vow to veto the spending bill carries its own cost. In a joint letter, they warned him against following "a political strategy that would needlessly delay funding for our troops."

"Calm down with the threats. There is a new Congress in town," Pelosi said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "We respect your constitutional role. We want you to respect ours."

As the two sides jabbed at each other, the Senate hurried to complete its $122 billion war spending measure, with a final vote on the package expected today. Republicans were unable to strike language setting a March 31, 2008, goal for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, but GOP leaders decided not to block the legislation. Its approval is now considered a foregone conclusion.

What comes next depends on whether Bush or the Democrats blink. As the House and the Senate advance toward negotiations on a final spending package, both Democratic leaders and the White House believe they hold strong positions. Bush expects Democrats to get blamed for delaying troop funding, while Reid and Pelosi think their position has widespread popular support, with polls showing voters growing increasingly unhappy about the course of the Iraq war.

Many Republicans are eager for Bush to veto the legislation, believing it could bolster him politically by reinforcing his role as commander in chief, while bringing about the Democrats' first public defeat on Iraq since they took control of Congress in January. Even GOP critics of Bush's Iraq record regard the Democratic withdrawal effort as overly meddlesome.

"The war will be funded," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN yesterday morning. "And we will give these young people a chance to succeed, not a signal that we're going to depart at a certain date and divorce totally from reality on the ground."

In a speech to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Bush said "members of Congress need to stop making political statements and start providing vital funds for our troops. They need to get that bill to my desk so I can sign it into law."

Although Democratic leaders said they still hope to negotiate a final war spending bill that the president could sign, they now view a presidential veto as unavoidable. To prepare, they are studying the events of 1995 and 1996, when President Bill Clinton vetoed appropriations bills and then successfully blamed Congress for shutting down the government.

Conservative Democrats also discussed alternatives for providing troop funding, if the standoff proves to be prolonged. For instance, Reps. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.) and Mike Ross (Ark.) suggested that the war funding be parceled out in three-month increments to force Bush to keep coming back for more.

Yet Democrats warned that they are not ready to compromise on their central dispute with Bush: that U.S. combat troop withdrawals should begin this year and conclude in 2008. The Senate bill set the goal of removing combat troops within a year, although some forces would be allowed to remain to conduct security, training and counterterrorism missions. The House bill would set a firm Aug. 31, 2008, date for complete withdrawal, with narrow exceptions.

"This war without end has gone on far too long," Pelosi said, "and we are here to end it."

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