- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

President Bush and Democratic congressional leaders yesterday drew lines in the sand, saying they won’t back down from their positions at a meeting tomorrow about a Democrat-backed deadline for withdrawal from Iraq in an emergency war-funding bill.

“I hope the Democratic leadership will drop their unreasonable demands for a precipitous withdrawal,” Mr. Bush said during a brief speech to military families at the White House. “I am willing to discuss any way forward that does not hamstring our troops, set an artificial timetable for withdrawal and spend billions on projects not related to the war.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats would stand their ground.

“We’re going to send the president a bill that has timetables in it,” Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said at a press conference with two retired Army generals, shortly after the president’s speech. “Congress is committed to fully funding the troops, changing the course in Iraq and responsibly ending the conflict in far-away Iraq. We are committed to pressing these goals to the administration until they do change course.”

The Democrat-controlled Senate and House have passed separate emergency-funding bills of about $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. The House bill sets a September 2008 withdrawal deadline, and the Senate bill calls for most troops to leave Iraq before next April. The differences must be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, which has not met.

Mr. Bush has said for months that he would veto any bill with a withdrawal deadline, and he will meet with Democratic leaders tomorrow at the White House.

Mr. Reid did say that if Mr. Bush vetoes a bill with a withdrawal timeline, then Congress will still send him a bill with benchmarks for the Iraqi government and military’s progress that must be met for U.S. troops to remain. “The president is not going to get a bill that has nothing on it,” he said.

In the argument between Mr. Bush and Democratic leaders that has gone on for weeks, the administration has often said it will not negotiate with Mr. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Yesterday, however, Mr. Bush, while not ceding any ground in substance, struck a more conciliatory tone, while Mr. Reid more soundly rejected compromise.

“I understand Republicans and Democrats in Washington have differences over the best course in Iraq. That’s healthy. That’s normal. And we should debate those differences. But our troops should not be caught in the middle,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Reid, however, said that Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are “isolated in their thinking and are failing our troops and our country.”

“Maybe [Mr. Bush is] so protected in that White House that he really doesn’t hear what’s going on on the outside. And he will,” Mr. Reid said. “We will express to him in no uncertain terms that he’s wrong in his threats to Congress.”

Mrs. Pelosi said that “we are ready to work with the president to change the direction in Iraq, but the president must accept the facts and put aside partisan attacks and heated rhetoric.”

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