Washington: President George W. Bush and democrats failed to settle their fight over funding for the Iraq war in talks on 18 April where lawmakers pressed Bush to accept a withdrawal timetable for U.S. troops.
Emerging from the White House session, senate majority leader Harry Reid and House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi said they would soon send Bush a bill that includes a pullout date along with $100 billion (Rs4,21,509 crore) in new war funds.
The White House and its Republican allies branded such timetables “surrender dates” and said Bush would reject them. The president accuses Democrats of trying to micromanage the war and contends their legislation is loaded with unrelated domestic projects. He has vowed to veto any bill that includes an Iraq pullout date.
Bush acknowledged there were “strong opinions” around the table, although he and democrats strove for a cordial tone in their remarks and indicated a willingness to meet again.
“We came in the spirit of hope that the president would say yes for an answer,” said Pelosi, a California democrat. But she added democrats would not give Bush a “blank check” to keep troops in Iraq as long as he sees fit.
“We believe he must search his soul, his conscience, and find out what is the right thing for the American people,” said Reid, a Nevada democrat. “I believe signing this bill will do that.”
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said there was a “general understanding that ultimately the troops will get the funding that they need” but there remained “fundamental disagreements about deadlines tied to a surrender date.”
Many lawmakers believe serious talks toward a deal may not take place until after democrats send Bush their version of a bill with timelines and he vetoes it. They would then consider the option of drafting fresh legislation, possibly considering “benchmarks” to gauge Iraq’s progress instead of timelines.
House and Senate democrats must first iron out their own differences in language on the current legislation. Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who chairs a House panel overseeing defense spending, predicted Bush would be sent a war-funding bill next week.
Democrats Cite Polls
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said democrats should finish their bill quickly so Bush could veto it and Congress could move on to a more important second bill. “There’s a willingness to try to get through this first phase and get into an effort to find a way out of it,” he said.
Democrats believe their stance on the Iraq funding dispute has been bolstered by polls showing rising opposition to Bush’s Iraq policy.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll this week showed 58% of Americans trusted democrats in Congress to do a better job handling the situation in Iraq while 33% trusted Bush.
In a development that could help fuel public pessimism, a series of car bombs killed nearly 200 people in Baghdad in the deadliest attack since the launch of a security crackdown.
Democrats are outraged by Bush’s decision to increase the U.S. troop presence in Iraq by some 28,000. Murtha said that if Bush “insists on continuing the current operational tempo and policy,” then he should impose a military draft. “That is the responsible thing to do,” he said.