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Bush Repeats Veto Threat on Spending Bill That Includes Iraq Withdrawal Timetable

Posted: March 29, 2007
President Bush

President Bush renewed his veto threat on an Iraq spending bill on Wednesday in the face of a defiant Senate that is set to pass legislation that includes an order for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq beginning 120 days after the bill is signed into law.

That's never going to happen, Bush said.

"Here's the bottom line: The House and Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders, and an artificial timetable for withdrawal. And I have made it clear for weeks, if either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it," Bush told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

The president said it is clear from the votes that a veto would be sustained. He also warned against toying with funding for the troops to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Congress continues to pursue these bills and as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field. Funding for our forces in Iraq will begin to run out in mid-April. 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," Bush said, adding that restrictions on commanders will make defeat more likely.

The debate surrounds legislation that provides $122 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as domestic priorities such relief to hurricane victims and payments to farmers. A final vote in the Senate is due as early as Wednesday. The House has already passed similar legislation.

With passage, the two chambers will have to choose between the Senate bill, which calls for a nonbinding suggested goal of removing combat troops by March 31, 2008, and the House version, which calls for a Sept. 1, 2008, deadline for withdrawal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent Bush a letter Wednesday, requesting a meeting to discuss the legislation.

"We stand ready, willing and able to speak with him," Reid said.

He added that Democrats won't back down in the face of a likely veto.

"Why doesn't he get real with what's going on with the world?" Reid said. "We're not holding up funding in Iraq and he knows that. Why doesn't he deal with the real issues facing the American people?"

Pelosi said Bush "needs to calm down with the threats" and "take a deep breath."

"I just wish the president would take a deep breath and recognize that each of us has a constitutional role," Pelosi told reporters at a press conference with Democratic leaders to celebrate their first 100 days with majority control of the House. The actual 100th day of the 110th Congress is April 14, when lawmakers will be on their Easter recess.

In four years, the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 U.S. troops and cost in excess of $300 billion. Republicans earlier blocked a nonbinding measure critical of Bush's decision to deploy an additional 21,500 troops.

But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the GOP won't hold up the debate because they want to get the bill out of the Senate, into the conference committee to work out differences with House lawmakers and onto Bush's desk for the veto.

McConnell said the only way for the bill to become law would be with funding for the troops and not a timetable for withdrawal.

"I think that what we need to do is have us get the bill up here, let the president do the veto, and then let more discussions begin on a cleaner bill," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. She added that if Congress wants to work out its differences, they have time to do it before the April 15 dealine when the Iraqi operation starts running out of money.

"The president has said that he'll be here, he'll be in Washington and is willing to work. We have that one Easter break, but we'll be back by the 9th," she said.

Bush's threat comes one day after Senate Democrats narrowly won a vote to keep in place a timetable that calls for the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq within 120 days of passage of the measure. It also offers a suggested by nonbinding goal of removing all combat troops by March 31, 2008.

An attempt to scuttle the timetable was offered as an amendment to the emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 50-48 vote to defeat the amendment was a reversal of a vote earlier this month that rejected a similar timetable. Democrats this time were able to swing the votes of Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, both of Nebraska, who previously voted against timetables. Like the last vote, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas opposed the timetable. Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon supported it.

Click here to see how your senator voted.

With Democrats holding a slim majority — 50-49-1 — Republicans had trouble finding one Democrat to pick up the loss of Hagel and Nelson to force a tie vote. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman joined Republicans trying to pass the amendment to strike the timetable.

Before the vote, Nelson said he would reject the measure — offered up by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. — because it strikes several other "critical provisions, including language acknowledging that the situation in Iraq has become a civil war," as well as a call for diplomatic and political engagement by the Iraqi and American governments. The measure also called for suggested goals for the Iraqi government to provide for its own security, enhance democracy and distribute its oil wealth fairly.

"Such steps are necessary for success in Iraq and I do not support taking them out of the supplemental bill. Therefore, I will vote against this amendment," Nelson said.

Reid said he had hoped that the White House would "be willing to work with us" on language Democrats could accept, but "at this stage, he has been very non-negotiable. So we'll see what happens."

After the vote, Reid said he hoped that Bush "understands how serious we are and the American people are and that, rather than making all the threats that he has, let's work with him and see if he can give us some ideas how we can satisfy the wishes of a majority of the Senate, the majority of the House, and move forward and complete this bill as quickly as we can."

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Republican presidential hopeful, said war critics were proposing a withdrawal "just at the moment we're starting to turn things around in Iraq."

Campaigning in Tallahassee, Fla., McCain said he had to get back to Washington, D.C., to vote against "the definite date for surrender act."

He gave an upbeat assessment of events in Iraq since Bush announced an increase in troops last January, and said, "If we withdraw from Iraq prematurely, it would be the terrorists' greatest triumph."

FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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