President Bush Renews Threat to Veto Bill on Iraq Troop Withdrawal
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KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush’s threats in recent weeks to veto any war funding bill that includes either a timetable for troop withdrawal or conditions on U.S. commanders in the field have not stopped congressional Democrats from moving forward with bills that would do just that.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: The toll that it’s taking in lives and limbs, the toll that it’s taking on the strength of our security, the toll it’s taking financially and in our reputation in the world is one that is too great.
KWAME HOLMAN: On Friday, the House voted to require troops be pulled out of Iraq by September 2008, securing that measure by the narrowest of margins. And this week, the Senate is likely to overcome near-unanimous Republican opposition to pass a bill establishing as a goal that all troops leave Iraq by the end of March next year, with a phased redeployment to begin much sooner.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: We have, in the House and in the Senate, spoken. We’ve spoken the words the American people wanted us to speak.
President defends Iraq policy
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: If either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, the president reasserted his intention to block any such congressional action, devoting more than half his remarks before the National Cattlemen's Association to defending his Iraq policy and condemning the Democratic measures.
GEORGE W. BUSH: It is also clear from the strong opposition in both houses that my veto would be sustained, yet 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.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: Is the cost worth what we are attempting to accomplish?
Senate debates the bill
KWAME HOLMAN: But as the Senate continued to work on the $122 billion measure aimed at funding U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Democrats from both houses were not backing down from their pledge to attach conditions to the bill. Wisconsin's Russ Feingold.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), Wisconsin: This war will end, and the question is when? Will it go on unnecessarily long? The Democrats and some Republicans are the only force here in this town that is making sure that this war ends as fast as possible.
KWAME HOLMAN: But South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said the Democratic moves were unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: The restrictions that we're placing on our military and the deadlines and the time lines and the benchmarks all add up to really making it impossible for the new strategy of General Petraeus to be successful, if they became law.
This is a constitutional encroachment upon the power of commander-in-chief that I think is unprecedented. There's an honorable path for Congress to take, and that is just stop funding for a war that you think is lost.
But the combination of deadlines, benchmarks, time lines, micromanaging troop rotations, they all add up to the Congress really taking over wartime activity in a way that was never envisioned before.
Congress 'missing in action'
KWAME HOLMAN: But many House Democrats, such as Oregon's Earl Blumenauer, said they were forced to act because of the Bush administration's exceptionally poor execution of the war, with no check from Congress.
REP. EARL BLUMENAUER (D), Oregon: Part of the problem is that, under unified Republican leadership in the administration in Congress, Congress was missing in action. For the first time in six years, you're seeing a reassertion of our constitutional responsibility for oversight, power of the purse, and policy.
We're co-equal partners here. And by establishing requirements for how the public's money is used, that's not micro-managing. That's establishing the parameters that Congress should have done from the outset.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Speaker Pelosi urged the president to negotiate with Congress.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We have a serious responsibility as leaders in Congress to sit down with the president, to listen to his concerns, and he has a serious responsibility to sit down with us, as well, each of us respecting each other's constitutional role. I hope that that is what will happen, rather than stonewalling.
KWAME HOLMAN: After the Senate passes its bill, expected within days, it still must be reconciled with the House version before a war funding bill can go to the president.