- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

ROCHESTER, N.H. — Both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards are urging Congress to force President Bush’s hand in the Iraq war funding debate, which has become the latest dividing line among the top Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards spoke days after Sen. Barack Obama, the third candidate in the top tier of the Democratic field, took a bruising from liberal Democrats after he predicted that Congress will submit to Mr. Bush’s demands and send the president a new version of the war funding bill without timetables or extra spending.

“If he vetoes it and sends it back, then we ought to send it back to him again, because this president has to change course,” Mr. Edwards told a town hall forum at the University of New Hampshire Monday night.

Mrs. Clinton said her campaign is conducting an online petition drive to urge Mr. Bush not to veto the bill. Presidential inaction would be the Democrats’ only hope of winning the face-off because they are nowhere near having the two-thirds majority in both houses needed to override a veto. In addition, more than 150 House Republicans have publicly pledged to back a Bush veto.

“Mr. President, please work with us. Don’t veto the will of the American people,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Mr. Obama told the Associated Press during the weekend that Congress eventually will give Mr. Bush what he has demanded: a clean emergency war-spending bill that does not include pork-barrel funding and does not tie the generals’ hands in Iraq.

“My expectation is that we will continue to try to ratchet up the pressure on the president to change course,” Mr. Obama told the AP. “I don’t think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage.”

Mr. Bush has vowed to veto either version of the bill that makes it to his desk. Both the House and Senate bills tie war funding to a troop-withdrawal timetable for Iraq and contain about $20 billion in nonmilitary domestic spending, including pork-barrel projects. The veto standoff threatens to delay funding beyond two weeks, when Pentagon officials say war money will start to recede. Congressional researchers say the military can bridge funding gaps until July.

More voters are likely to blame Democrats in Congress if funds fail to reach the troops in time, Republican pollsters say. A poll conducted last week for the Republican National Committee showed that 50 percent of voters would blame Democrats compared with 40 percent who would blame the president. The survey also showed that 56 percent of voters support fully funding the Iraq war while 38 percent oppose full funding.

Part of Mr. Obama’s appeal to some Democrats has been his willingness to oppose the Iraq war early and forcefully. He said yesterday that Congress has other options if Mr. Bush vetoes the bill.

“We have to come back, and we have to say: All right, we will constrain you in a different way,” Mr. Obama said.

He proposed that Congress pass short-term spending bills and let the administration know: “If you have not initiated the withdrawal at that point, we will put you on an even shorter leash.”

Democratic voters are clearly mindful of the war issue. At a town hall forum in Rochester yesterday, Mr. Obama received his strongest applause when he called Iraq “a war that never should have been authorized and never should have been waged.”

Some of those in attendance wanted him to go further.

“Why haven’t you said: ‘President Bush is using these troops as human shields, point-blank’?” said Ted Dushane, who called himself a liberal Republican, although after the event he said Mr. Obama is the top major candidate opposing the war.

S.A. Miller contributed to this report from Washington.

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