- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

President Bush yesterday put a human face on the war-funding standoff with Democratic lawmakers, saying their failure to send him a “clean” spending bill that he can sign will keep some troops in the field longer and force others to deploy sooner than planned.

Using his harshest language to date, the president upbraided the Democrat-controlled Congress for leaving on “spring break” without completing work on the bill — 57 days after he requested $103 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In a time of war, it’s irresponsible for the … Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds,” Mr. Bush said at a Rose Garden press conference.

“The bottom line is this: Congress’ failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. And others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to. That is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people,” he said.

The final version of the bill is not expected to reach Mr. Bush’s desk until late this month.

As he has for nearly a month, Mr. Bush unequivocally said he will veto either spending bill in its current form. He rejects both a Senate-passed bill calling for most U.S. combat troops to withdraw from Iraq by March 31, 2008, and a House-passed bill that sets a September 2008 withdrawal deadline.

The president chastised lawmakers for wasting so much time passing bills they know he will veto — a veto that is expected to hold.

The narrow margins the bills passed by, mostly along party lines, make it unlikely Democrats in either chamber can muster the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto.

“If Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement, then they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I’ll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay,” Mr. Bush said.

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat pushing to end the Iraq war by cutting off funding, said it was the president’s failed strategy that was hurting the troops and endangering homeland security.

“We cannot afford to continue the president’s disastrous Iraq policy, which has weakened our national security and undercut our fight against those who attacked us on 9/11,” he said. “By safely redeploying our troops, we can refocus on fighting the global terrorist networks that continue to threaten the lives of Americans.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, also refocused the blame on the president, saying he was the one “engaging in unnecessary political theater and delaying funding for our troops in harm’s way.”

Republicans, however, remained mostly united behind the president.

“I think we ought to get [the bill] on down to him and get the veto out of the way, get the veto sustained and get serious about providing money for the troops without a deadline that endangers our troops and gives the enemy a precise date upon which we’re leaving,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign initiated an online petition urging Mr. Bush not to veto the legislation.

“This bill represents the will not only of the Congress but of the American people,” the New York Democrat said. “The president is making a grave mistake by refusing to work with the Congress to change direction in Iraq. It is time for him to recognize that the American people want a new policy.”

At the Rose Garden press conference, which took place a day before the president leaves on his own five-day break, Mr. Bush also:

• Lashed out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, for traveling to terrorism sponsor Syria, saying her trip is “counterproductive” and sends the wrong signal to the region.

• Rejected a “quid pro quo” between Britain and Iran to win the release of 15 British sailors and marines captured last month.

• Dodged a question about whether U.S. attorneys must be “loyal” to the president and again expressed support for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who is under fire in the aftermath of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

c Reiterated his support for the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals in the military.

• Quickly answered a reporter’s question about whether he knew the current price of a gallon of gasoline — “$2.60-plus.” The national average is a bit higher, $2.70. The reporter followed up by asking: “Where are you shopping, sir?”

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