President Bush yesterday ridiculed House and Senate lawmakers for pork-laden Iraq war funding bills that set 2008 deadlines for full U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, vowing to veto what he called "arbitrary" limits on U.S. military commanders.
Addressing a group of raucous ranchers at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Washington, the president drew laughter and applause as he lampooned the competing bills now working their ways through Congress.
On the Senate bill, Mr. Bush noted that "there's $3.5 million for visitors to tour the Capitol and see for themselves how Congress works." To loud laughter from the cattlemen, he added: "I'm not kidding you."
"The bill includes $74 million for peanut storage, $25 million for spinach growers," he said to laughter. "There's $6.4 million for the House of Representatives' salaries and expense accounts. I don't know what that is, but it is not related to the war and protecting the United States of America," he said to more laughter and applause.
The president urged lawmakers to deliver a bill he can sign.
"Here's the bottom line: The House and Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders, and an artificial timetable for withdrawal," Mr. Bush said. "And I have made it clear for weeks, if either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it.
"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," he said.
Democrats, however, accused the president of stubbornly sticking with a failed Iraq policy and demanded that Mr. Bush listen to the American people.
"Now that congressional Democrats have voted to give the troops the resources they need in combat, including a strategy to change course and get them out of a civil war, it's up to the president to drop his stubborn veto threat so there is no delay in funding for our troops," said Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "He should also stop ignoring the will of the American people, put partisanship aside and work with Congress to fix his failed policies in Iraq."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada agreed.
"Why doesn't he get real with what's going on with the world?" he said after Mr. Bush's speech. "We're not holding up funding in Iraq, and he knows that. Why doesn't he deal with the real issues facing the American people?"
But the president said that the Democratic strategy will not force him to negotiate and said the "consequences of imposing such a specific and random date of withdrawal would be disastrous."
"Our enemies in Iraq would simply have to mark their calendars. They'd spend the months ahead plotting how to use their new safe haven once we were to leave. It makes no sense for politicians in Washington, D.C., to be dictating arbitrary timelines for our military commanders in a war zone 6,000 miles away," Mr. Bush said.
"If we cannot muster the resolve to defeat this evil in Iraq, America will have lost its moral purpose in the world and we will endanger our citizens," the president said. "If we leave Iraq before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats won't back down.
"This Congress will hold him accountable for the conduct of this war, and we will have legislation that will give him every dollar he asks for for our troops and more, but with accountability," she said.
The Senate yesterday continued debate on a bill that provides $96 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about $20 billion for domestic spending. The bill would require Mr. Bush to begin bringing home some combat troops right away with a nonbinding goal of ending combat missions by March 31, 2008.
The House last week passed a similar bill by a 218-212 vote. That bill orders combat troops out by Aug. 31, 2008 guaranteeing the final spending measure negotiated with the Senate will include some sort of timetable on the war.