Bush criticizes Democrats over war funds
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush on Tuesday called Democrats in Congress irresponsible for approving war bills that order U.S. troops to leave Iraq by certain dates. He said such efforts will backfire, keeping some troops in battle even longer.
“In a time of war, it’s irresponsible for the Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds,” Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference.
“The bottom line is this: Congress’ failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines,” Bush said. “Others could see their loved ones heading back to the war sooner than they need to.”
Bush’s comments underscored his standoff with Congress. Democrats won power in November, fueled in large part by national anti-war sentiment. They are intent on using their power over money to force Iraq to take more responsibility, and prod Bush to wind down the war.
The president renewed veto threats on both a Senate-passed bill calling for most U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008, and an even stronger House-passed bill demanding a September 2008 withdrawal. He said both bills “undercut the troops.”
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Bush bluntly said that Congress could not override such a veto.
The president’s remarks come one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he would try to eliminate money for the war if Bush rejects Congress’ proposal to set a deadline to end combat.
“It’s interesting that Harry Reid, leader Reid, spoke out with a different option,” Bush said. “Whatever option they choose, we hope they get home, get a bill, and get it to my desk,” Bush said. “And if it has artificial timetables for withdrawal, or cuts off funding for our troops, or tells our generals how to run a war, I’ll veto it.”
The Senate is in recess this week; the House is on break for two weeks.
The House and Senate are preparing to send Bush a bill by the end of the month that would approve of some $96 billion in new money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also set an end date to combat in Iraq. The House wants to order troops out by September 2008, whereas the Senate wants troops to begin leaving right away and set a nonbinding goal of ending combat operations on March 31, 2008.
“If the president vetoes the supplemental appropriations bill and continues to resist changing course in Iraq, I will work to ensure this legislation receives a vote in the Senate in the next work period,” Reid said in a statement before Bush’s comments.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the bill to cut off funds for the war would likely be introduced as standalone legislation and would not be tied to the supplemental spending bill.
Reid’s proposal would be the most extreme and divisive measure to be considered by Democrats to try to force Bush’s hand on the war.
Most Republicans and many conservative Democratic senators, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have been reluctant to embrace a timetable in Iraq. Nelson agreed last week to swing behind the Senate spending bill, which calls for troops to leave by March 31, 2008, only because the date was nonbinding and not a firm deadline.
Nelson also agreed to vote for the measure because Reid added language Nelson wanted outlining steps the Iraqi government should take to improve stability in Iraq.
Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon were the only Republicans who supported the measure.
Reid’s promise marks a new shift in strategy for Democrats. Reid was previously reluctant to embrace the suggestion of using Congress’ power of the purse and deflected questions on the matter by saying Democrats would provide troops with what they need to be safe.
His latest proposal would give the president one year to get troops out, ending funding for combat operations after March 31, 2008, and allowing troops to conduct only counterterrorism operations, train Iraqi forces and provide security for U.S. infrastructure and personnel.
This latest challenge indicates Reid is likely both frustrated by Bush’s insistence on the war and his own shaky majority in Congress. Unable to override a presidential veto because he lacks the necessary two-thirds majority support, Reid is trying to ratchet up the pressure on Bush in the hopes the president will cave.