- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Democrat-led House yesterday failed to override President Bush’s veto of an emergency war-funding bill with a troop-withdrawal timetable for Iraq, after House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Congress should quickly pass a new version without a pullout plan.

The attempt to reverse Mr. Bush’s veto failed in a 222-203 vote, more than 60 votes short of the needed two-thirds majority, which also would have had to have been mustered in the Senate.

The vetoed legislation, which originally passed both chambers of Congress on near party-line votes, would have started a troop withdrawal as early as July 1 and no later than Oct. 1 if the Iraqi government did not meet certain policy benchmarks. Mr. Bush opposed the measure because of what he called Congress’ attempt to usurp his power as commander in chief.

Mr. Hoyer said Democrats can turn to other legislation — including upcoming Defense Department budget bills — to challenge Mr. Bush’s war policy.

“This bill is not the last word,” said the Maryland Democrat, who explained that the strategy to deal with the impasse is being developed. He said he expects the House to pass a new war-funding bill within two weeks, leaving the Senate two weeks to approve it before Congress takes a weeklong Memorial Day recess at the end of May.

“We’re not going to leave our troops there in harm’s way at the point of the spear without the resources they need to achieve success,” he said, signaling that the leadership will fund the troops first and oppose the war later.

Congressional leaders from both parties met with Mr. Bush at the White House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said they would work with the administration to get a spending bill completed, but emphasized that they’re committed to ending the war.

“Yesterday was a day that highlighted differences. Today is a day where we can work together to find common ground,” Mr. Bush said to reporters at the beginning of the meeting, with Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, seated to his right, and Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, on his left.

The 30-minute meeting was originally scheduled for one hour.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush, in the most vigorous defense of his Iraq policy in some time, said al Qaeda was still “public enemy No. 1 in Iraq,” adding that the war in that country would be won when violence was reduced to a level with which average citizens could live.

“For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in a civil war; it’s whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11,” Mr. Bush said during a speech to the Associated General Contractors of America convention. “I strongly believe it’s in our national interest to stay in the fight.”

Republican Reps. Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, who supported the measure, joined the Democratic majority in challenging the veto. Democrats picked up four among their party who had opposed the pullout scheme because it didn’t end the war immediately. Backing the president’s veto were seven Democrats and 196 Republicans.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said both sides agreed during the White House meeting to “put our differences aside and to begin to look for common ground to try to make sure that our troops get the funding that they need.”

“There’s a widespread recognition, probably unanimous recognition, that we need to get this job done. It also needs to be done by Memorial Day,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Democratic leaders are considering inserting benchmarks for progress in Iraq into the bill without the threat of a troop pullout for failure — a concept members of its powerful anti-war caucus oppose. Republican leaders in both chambers say they are open to nonbinding benchmarks, although Mr. Bush opposes them.

Mr. Bush will send negotiators to Capitol Hill today. He said his designation of White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman as negotiators was a sign of his “serious intent” to work with Congress.

Mr. Bolten will meet today with Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell.

Mrs. Pelosi, Republican leaders said, designated Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, to negotiate with the White House, along with Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, the ranking Appropriations member.

The president has requested about $100 billion to fund troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The Pentagon is already raiding other military accounts to keep combat operations going until July.

A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey last week showed 52 percent of voters opposed Mr. Bush’s plan to veto the troop-withdrawal timetable, and 35 percent favored a veto. However, the country split along party lines on the issue, with 77 percent of Democrats against a veto and 64 percent of Republicans backing the president.

A separate Rasmussen poll showed 57 percent of American adults want either an immediate pullout or a firm withdrawal timetable, but 44 percent of voters said a pullout deadline will increase the danger to U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Most Republican voters — 69 percent — said a timetable put troops at risk, and Democrats were evenly divided on the question, the survey said.

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