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Bush, Democrats clash over Iraq war funding

There seems no end likely soon to a defining battle over how long US forces will stay.

world Updated: Apr 04, 2007 14:13 IST
Steve Holland
Steve Holland

President George W Bush and Democrats in charge of Congress clashed again on Tuesday over funding for the Iraq war with no end likely soon to a defining battle over how long American forces will stay.

At a White House Rose Garden news conference, Bush skewered Democrats for going on a spring recess without approving $100 billion for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, a day ahead of leaving on his own Easter vacation in Texas.

He repeated what has been a near-daily vow to veto legislation approved last month by narrow margins in the Senate and the House of Representatives that would impose a troop withdrawal timetable. If he vetoes the legislation, lawmakers would have to begin anew on a funding bill.

"Democrat leaders in Congress seem more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq," Bush said.

His latest salvo in the weeks-long standoff brought a prompt response from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other Democrats. Reid, who on Monday endorsed legislation to cut off funding for the war within a year, said lawmakers were sending Bush a bill that would keep troops supplied.

"If the president vetoes this bill he will have delayed funding for troops and kept in place his strategy for failure," Reid said.

Both sides believe they have the moral high ground. White House officials believe Americans will side with Bush and see Democrats as jeopardising US troops, while Democrats believe they will be viewed as saving the United States from an even worse outcome in Iraq.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd said Bush was pushing "partisan hogwash" and "tripe."

"I hope that the White House will put a little more effort toward responding to the will of this country and a little less toward the tired 'scare-and-dare' rhetoric," Byrd said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office urged Bush "not to assign blame to Congress for doing its job."

"The speaker has repeatedly encouraged the president to come to the table and work with the Congress," said her spokesman, Brendan Daley.

Bush has the difficult task of trying to convince Americans to stick with him yet again in a 4-year-old war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 US troops.

Clinton joins fray

Democrats were elected to control of Congress last November based on their opposition to the Iraq war, and public opinion polls back their position.

A Newsweek poll released last weekend said 57 per cent of Americans support the Democrats' plan to begin withdrawing troops with 36 per cent rejecting it.

The House bill contains a mandatory September 1, 2008, deadline for pulling out combat troops. The Senate mandates the withdrawal to begin sooner, but sets next March 31 as a goal for them to be out.

"We can't continue to pursue an Iraq policy based on fairy tales and rose-colored glasses. A majority of both the House and Senate have voted to change it. The president should join us," said Illinois Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

Democratic candidates in the race to succeed Bush next year joined the fray. New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign launched an online petition urging Bush not to veto the timetable legislation.

One of her opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, urged Democrats to stick together.

"Now is not a time to back down... The president's veto threat should only strengthen our resolve to stand by our troops and end this conflict," Edwards said.

First Published: Apr 04, 2007 12:01 IST