No compromise on war funding

Congress offers spending-cut deal

White House rejects Iraq deadline

May 19, 2007|By Jill Zuckman | Jill Zuckman,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Negotiations to pay for the war in Iraq fell apart yesterday as the White House accused Democrats of "being dug in" on a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops. Democrats charged that President Bush refused to accept any accountability for how the war is proceeding.

During a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders offered to drop billions of dollars in domestic spending if Bush would agree to a timetable to pull troops out of Iraq, a schedule that he could waive if he deemed it militarily necessary. Top White House officials, including chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, rejected the proposal.

"Timelines for withdrawal are just not the right way to go, and that cannot be the basis for funding our troops," Bolten told reporters after the meeting.

House Republican leader John A. Boehner used even stronger language, saying Democrats are insisting on "surrender dates."

"I can say that I was shocked at how stuck the Democrat leaders were on this withdrawal language," the Ohioan said.

Democrats were equally unhappy with the White House response, saying they, too, were disappointed with the meeting.

"The American people want our troops to come home," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. "The American people expect the president to respond to some basic things, like a timeline, like to make sure there's troop readiness. And the answer that we got time after time in the meeting we had this morning is the president would take no responsibility."

Both sides face increasing pressure to come to an agreement by the end of next week on the war funding measure as Memorial Day approaches. Congress plans to leave town for a recess then, and all agree there can be no further delay in approving the funds.

More than three months ago, Bush asked Congress for nearly $100 billion to fund, train and equip the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan through September. Democrats sent Bush a bill May 1 to help pay for the war, but it included language requiring troops to begin returning home Oct. 1.

Bush vetoed that bill, and the House failed to override the veto.

To Republicans and the White House, congressionally imposed timelines for withdrawing the troops infringe on the president's power. Democrats, on the other hand, contend that Bush refuses to recognize and respect the role of the legislature as an equal branch of government.

"Whether waive-able or not, timelines send exactly the wrong signal to our adversaries, to our allies and, most importantly, to the troops in the field," Bolten said. "The president is the one who has the authority to act as commander in chief. He needs to be the one making those decisions, recognizing that the Congress does have the power of the purse."

Reid, however, said Bush cannot act unilaterally.

"I hope the president's coming to the realization, after being in office more than six years, that this Constitution is now alive and well," Reid said. "We are a separate and equal branch of government, and he has to deal with us."

Jill Zuckman writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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