WASHINGTON: Harsh words flew on 24 April among President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Democrats on funding the Iraq war as Congress inched toward a possible compromise that drops timetables for withdrawing US troops.
In the meantime, the Democratic-controlled Congress and the Republican president were sticking to a script that has the House of Representatives passing legislation on Wednesday that sets a non-binding March 31 goal for bringing US combat troops out of Iraq.
On Thursday, the Senate also was expected to pass that bill, which provides an additional $100 billion this year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush’s promised veto could come as early as Monday.
But some Democrats, who stress they intend to provide all the money for the troops that Bush has requested, and $4 billion more, signaled they were open to a post-veto bill that provides the funds without timetables for withdrawing troops.
Such a bill would include “benchmarks” for measuring Iraq’s progress toward stabilizing a country that daily witnesses horrifying scenes of violence and killings.
“Yes. I would consider that and I think we will consider it,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat.
Hoyer’s counterpart, House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said such an approach would ”help us measure the progress we’re making” in Iraq without signaling a “surrender” date to the enemy.
Dropping timetables for withdrawing troops would be a disappointment to liberal Democrats, who think their party won November’s elections because of public anger over Bush’s handling of the Iraq war, now in its fifth year.
If a war-funding bill Bush eventually signs into law contains no withdrawal, Democrats are expected to try again on other bills leading up to the 2008 presidential election.
Until Bush vetoes the money bill now pending in Congress, it appears there will be no let up in the bombast.
“Instead of fashioning a bill I could sign, Democratic leaders chose to further delay funding our troops, and they chose to make a political statement,” Bush said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, asked about Bush’s claim Democrats were playing politics with the war, shot back, “I heard him say that and I thought it was beneath the dignity.” Pelosi, who has always opposed the Iraq war added, ”This is an ethical issue. This isn’t a political issue.”
The insults then moved to the Senate side of the Capitol, where a visiting Vice President Dick Cheney, who nearly always avoids talking to reporters on Capitol Hill, accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of ”defeatism” on the war.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, responded, ”I’m not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody that has 9 percent approval ratings.” Then he called Cheney “the administration’s chief attack dog.”
On Wednesday, Gen. David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, will brief Congress on the progress of a troop escalation aimed at controlling sectarian violence. Republicans hope he convinces at least some lawmakers not to rush to any conclusions following weeks of bad news from Iraq.
But Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert at the Congressional Research Service, told Reuters, “The Sunni insurgents have basically taken the troop surge, chewed it up, and spit it out. It has had virtually no overall effect on their operations whatsoever.”