Democrats meet with Bush; No give on Iraq |

Democrats meet with Bush; No give on Iraq

WASHINGTON – President Bush and Democratic leaders of Congress failed Wednesday to reconcile key differences over a disputed war-funding bill. Both sides held their ground, with Bush ready to veto any measure that calls for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq.The president met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Cabinet Room for about an hour. Democrats said afterward they would send the president legislation soon and held hopes that Bush would sign it. But the White House said that would not happen.”It appears that they are determined to send a bill to the president that he won’t accept,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “They fundamentally disagree.”Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tried to pressure Bush to sign the legislation. “We believe he must search his soul, his conscience and find out what is the right thing for the American people,” Reid said, standing outside the White House. “I believe signing this bill will do that.””It gives the troops more than he’s asked for and leaves the troops there for considerable periods of time with some goals and benchmarks that have been called for by the American people, the Iraq Study Group and many, many military,” Reid said.Republicans followed Democrats to the microphones to say there was no hope Bush would sign a bill resembling the Democrats’ legislation.Republicans began calling any troop withdrawal timeline a “surrender date.”House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, asked if anything had changed as a result of the meeting, replied: “No.””Except that people were polite, people were open, they were honest,” Boehner said. “And there’s a willingness to try to get through this first phase.” He was referring to Democrats’ sending Bush a bill that he will veto.”The real issue … is whether, in fact, we’re going to agree to a surrender date and that’s not going to happen,” Boehner said.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, “We came here in a spirit of hope, recognizing that this is a historic opportunity for the executive branch, the president and the Congress to work together to wind down this war, and ensure the security of our country and the stability of the region.”We cannot give the president a blank check, but we are willing to work with him to come to an agreement,” she said, adding that the lawmakers intend to pass legislation next week.She said it supports the troops, honors commitments to veterans and holds the Iraqi government accountable.Sitting down with lawmakers, Bush acknowledged there were strong differences of opinion about how to proceed in Iraq.”People have strong opinions around the table. I’m looking forward to listening to them,” the president said. “I’ve got my own opinion, which I’m more than willing to share.”Bush, who sat between Pelosi and Reid, met with leaders of both parties as majority Democrats worked at drafting compromise legislation that provides war funding the president wants – but also is certain to include troop-withdrawal timelines that he has vowed to veto.The sit-down came on the same day that four large bombs exploded in mostly Shiite areas of Baghdad, killing at least 178 people and wounding scores – the deadliest day in the city since the start of the U.S.-Iraqi campaign to pacify the capital two months ago.Defense Secretary Robert Gates, traveling in the Mideast, called it “horrifying.”The House-passed bill requires the withdrawal of combat troops by Sept. 1, 2008. The Senate measure is weaker, requiring the beginning of a withdrawal within 120 days, and setting a nonbinding goal of March 2008 for completion.Both bills provide emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.Bush considers withdrawal timetables to be dangerous war policy that encourages enemies of the United States to wait for troops to leave. The president has also objected to billions in domestic spending that Democrats included in both bills.The White House has sought to portray Democrats as indecisive, with each passing day coming at the expense of the troops.—On the Net:White House: http://www.whitehouse.govDepartment of Defense:

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