- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

FORT IRWIN, Calif. — President Bush yesterday told hundreds of soldiers at a desert-training base that “a narrow majority” in Congress is holding up new funds for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and bluntly told lawmakers that “the clock is ticking for our military.”

Just hours after the president made two recess appointments and chastised lawmakers for taking “spring break” while the war-funding bills languish, he again emphatically stated that he would veto any legislation that sets a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“Their bills impose an artificial deadline for withdrawal from Iraq. Their bills substitute the judgment of Washington politicians for the judgment of our military commanders. Their bills add billions of dollars in pork-barrel spending, spending that is unrelated to the war that you’re engaged in,” Mr. Bush said.

“Then, instead of sending an acceptable bill to my desk, they went on spring break,” he said, drawing laughter from soldiers and family members packed into a gymnasium at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, about an hour from Los Angeles.

“A strategy that encourages this enemy to wait us out is dangerous — it’s dangerous for our troops, it’s dangerous for our country’s security. And it’s not going to become the law,” he said to applause.

The president spent much of the day at Fort Irwin, the Army’s premier desert-training facility. Mr. Bush had a briefing on improvised explosives devices, known as IEDs, which are responsible for hundreds of deaths and injuries in Iraq. He watched as soldiers put on a route-clearance demonstration and then got an overview of anti-IED systems.

The president told the soldiers that lawmakers in Washington are putting military operations at risk.

“The Army says that without these funds, it will be forced to consider cutting back on training for Guard and Reserve units, and eventually for active-duty personnel. The folks at Fort Irwin know firsthand how important training is. Washington has a responsibility to ensure that you have the resources you need to keep this training going,” he said.

A Senate-passed bill calls for most U.S. combat troops to withdraw by March 31, 2008, and a House-passed bill sets a September 2008 withdrawal deadline. Both are laden with pork projects costing billions of dollars.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a recent analysis that Mr. Bush and Congress have about three months to resolve their standoff before funding shortfalls begin to hamper operations in Iraq. After that, Pentagon accountants would be forced to move money around in the department’s more than half-trillion-dollar budget to make sure operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not disrupted.

“We cannot allow honest differences in Washington to harm our troops in battle, or their families here at home. Members of Congress have sent their message; now they need to send me a war-spending measure that I can sign into law,” Mr. Bush said.

Earlier in the day, the president stopped off in a Mojave Desert field of tanks and robotic devices and watched as soldiers disarmed IEDs. He visited a village that replicates conditions in Iraq, with actors playing civilian roles — and actually living there.

After the president’s speech, Spc. Israel Molina of Chicago said he was “comforted by his words.” Pfc. Lloyd Parker of Brooklyn said it was a “powerful” speech and expressed confidence that “everything will be put in order.”

Before heading to his Crawford, Texas, ranch for a five-day Easter break, Mr. Bush stopped off at the Los Angeles-area home of friend Brad Freeman, where he was expected to raise more than $2 million for the Republican National Committee.

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