- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

President Bush yesterday accused Democrats of playing politics with an emergency war funding bill and called congressional leaders to the White House next week to discuss the impasse, but Democrats immediately snubbed the invitation.

Turning up the heat on Democrats, who left town before sending to the president a bill that he has repeatedly said he will veto, Mr. Bush said, “Democratic leaders in Congress are bent on using a bill that funds our troops to make a political statement about the war.

“They need to do it quickly and get it to my desk so I can veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without further delay,” the president said to applause from veterans at American Legion Post 177 in Fairfax.

Democratic leaders rebuffed the invitation, saying they would not enter talks that include “preconditions” set by Mr. Bush. The offices of both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they will not meet under the current conditions.

“It is difficult to imagine a meeting,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley, adding that the president would have to reword his invitation before the congressional leaders would attend talks.

Mr. Bush was diplomatic when he invited members of both parties to the White House next week in an effort to move forward a pair of competing $100 billion bills passed by the House and Senate. The president had rejected both because each sets a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal next year.

“At this meeting, the leaders in Congress can report on progress on getting an emergency spending bill to my desk. We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill — a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal and without handcuffing our generals on the ground,” he said.

The White House, though, was more blunt about what it is looking for in the meeting.

“This is not a negotiation,” said deputy press secretary Dana Perino.

But Democratic leaders, who have sought to wield the power of the purse, said Mr. Bush must negotiate if he wants to find a compromise.

“He has got to deal with Congress,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat. “He’s got to listen to us. We are speaking for the American people. He is not.”

Both Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said the spending bill needs to fully fund the U.S. combat troops and provide a strategy for getting them out of a “civil war” in Iraq.

“With his threat to veto such a plan for change in Iraq, President Bush is ignoring the clear message of the American people: We must protect our troops, hold the Iraqi government accountable, rebuild our military, provide for our veterans and bring our troops home,” the two leaders said in a statement.

The House bill sets a September 2008 withdrawal deadline and the Senate bill called for most troops to leave Iraq by March 31. The differences must be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, which has not met.

Mr. Bush also condemned the chambers’ inclusion of roughly $20 billion in nonmilitary spending, including pork-barrel projects, bringing the House bill to $124 billion and the Senate version to $123 billion.

The final measure, approved by both chambers, is not expected to reach Mr. Bush’s desk until late this month. If he vetoes the bill and Congress fails to override it, which congressional Republicans say they can prevent, negotiations for troop funding will start over.

Yesterday, the president said troops will suffer if the emergency war funding bill is not passed and signed soon.

“The Democrats who pass these bills know that I’ll veto them, and they know that this veto will be sustained. Yet they continue to pursue the legislation. And as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field,” said Mr. Bush, who maintains Congress is encroaching on his role as commander in chief.

“These actions are only the beginning. And the longer Congress delays, the worse the impact on the men and women of the armed forces will be.”

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans again called for Mrs. Pelosi, who has not appointed her chamber’s conferees, to cut short the House’s spring break and rush the bill to the president’s desk — a request she called “a cheap political stunt.”

“Our commanders have said they need the funds now,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, adding that the Defense Department is preparing to reshuffle $1.6 billion to cover the immediate shortfall for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The shortage has begun to kick in and to create problems in supplying adequate funding,” said the Kentucky Republican.

Mr. McConnell also said the delay may increase divisions among Democrats, who are split on how to move forward.

“I know it’s kicked off a debate among Democrats on the advisability of cutting off funds for the troops,” he said. “This debate among Democrats is another reason why this could be dragged out entirely too long and needs to be dealt with now.”

Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Charles E. Schumer of New York said this weekend that Democrats will not cut off funds for troops in Iraq. Their comments contradicted a threat by Mr. Reid, who has pledged to keep the timetable alive, even if emergency war funding is eventually passed.

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