From combined dispatches
Two leading congressional Democrats yesterday said their party would have little realistic choice but to fund U.S. forces in Iraq without withdrawal timelines if President Bush vetoes a war-spending bill as promised.
“I think that nobody wants to play chicken with our troops on the ground,” said Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. “I do think a majority of the Senate has now expressed the belief that we need to change course in Iraq.
“Obviously we’re constrained by the fact that a commander in chief who also has veto power has the option of ignoring that position,” Mr. Obama, a 2008 presidential contender, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York agreed, in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
When asked by host Tim Russert “what happens if the president says, ‘I’m vetoing this bill because it has a date fixed for withdrawal’? … You won’t give them the money for the troops?” Mr. Rangel replied: “Oh, no.”
“Ultimately, politically, we have to give him money,” said Mr. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Democrat-controlled House and Senate passed measures last month that would provide more than $90 billion to sustain military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, while setting conditions for an eventual withdrawal of troops.
The Senate bill would require the beginning of a troop exit within 120 days, with a nonbinding goal of March 31 next year for its completion. The House version is more sweeping, mandating that nearly all combat troops pull out by Sept. 1, 2008.
Mr. Bush has said he would veto any funding legislation with timelines, and the Senate’s top Republican yesterday dismissed as unacceptable any legislation that sets deadlines for a troop withdrawal.
“This bill is not salvageable,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Nevertheless, Senate Democrats yesterday said they will keep pushing for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers had some time to maneuver with either a compromise bill or a new measure that sets “target dates” for withdrawal, citing a nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report that indicates the Army has enough bookkeeping flexibility to pay for war operations until July.
Lawmakers and Capitol Hill staff aides view mid- to late May as the deadline for completing the war-spending bill to avoid hardships.
“I think we’ll end up doing what the Senate did, not what the House did, set a target date,” Mr. Biden told Fox News. “You’ve got to change the mission to get a political solution. That’s what we’re saying.”
“The memo is not to the enemy. The memo is to the president: Mr. President, get straight on this war,” he said. “Get us out of the middle of a civil war.”
Mr. Durbin insisted that Democrats in the House and Senate will work out a compromise despite differences in the proposals about calling U.S. troops home. The final legislation, he said, will start winding down the war.
“If you follow this escalation of the war by President Bush, you can understand that there is no end in sight,” Mr. Durbin said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Still, Mr. Obama said: “I don’t think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage.”