- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

Negotiations for emergency war funds stalled as soon as they began yesterday, with both the White House and the Democrat-led Congress immediately rejecting the other’s modest concessions.

After emerging from an hourlong Capitol Hill meeting, President Bush’s chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, said the Democrats’ offer of waivable timelines for withdrawing troops from Iraq were unacceptable.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the White House’s proposal of policy benchmarks, backed up by the threat of cutting off aid to Iraq, was too weak.

The Democratic leaders, who say they will continue to push for an end to the war in Iraq, plan to draft a funding bill over the weekend and pass it by the end of next week, before Congress takes a weeklong Memorial Day break beginning May 28.

“Whether [the president] vetoes the bill or not is up to him,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat. “We have a responsibility to the American people, and we’re going to live up to that every minute of the next week.”

Mr. Bush vetoed the $124 billion bill Congress sent him last month because it included a pullout timetable, and he has made it clear he will veto any measure that restricts funds or dictates military strategy.

“Whether waivable or not, timelines send exactly the wrong signal to our adversaries, to our allies and, most importantly, to the troops in the field,” Mr. Bolten said. “The president is the one who has the authority to act as commander in chief. He needs to be the one making those decisions.”

The Republican National Committee released internal poll results yesterday that showed the majority of voters siding with Mr. Bush in the funding standoff, though the country remains deeply divided over the war.

About 60 percent say war funds should not come with a pullout timetable, and 32 percent say Congress should withhold funds until the president agrees to a withdrawal schedule, according to the poll. It also showed that 56 percent of voters say that setting a withdrawal date lets the enemy know when they can win.

But both sides vowed to stand firm in the tussle over $100 billion to pay for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan until the end of the fiscal year.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said the president was bucking their demand for “accountability” in Iraq.

Mr. Bolten brought to the table the same plan, sponsored by Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, that was embraced by the Senate in a 52-44 vote Wednesday — not the 60 votes needed to pass over a filibuster, but a significant show of bipartisan support.

Mr. Bolten said, “It seems to me that provides the accountability that members here in the Congress are looking for, for the way that the president is conducting the war, and does not have the defects of setting an arbitrary timeline for the withdrawal of our troops.”

The measure, which gives Mr. Bush the authority to waive the aid cuts, calls for Iraq to meet benchmarks to show it is making progress toward national reconciliation.

The negotiations yesterday followed a setback for antiwar Democrats in the Senate, where the chamber voted 67-29 on Wednesday to reject an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq and cut off of combat funds next year.

Democrats have offered to cut about $20 billion in domestic spending projects from the bill if Mr. Bush agreed to a troop-withdrawal timetable

Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress had objected to the extra spending, including pork-barrel projects, in the original bill. But pullout dates were their chief concern.

“Our colleagues across the aisle continue to insist on having surrender dates in the supplemental spending bill,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who attended the meeting.

“We continue to believe that the generals on the ground ought to be making decisions about how best to wage the war in Iraq, not Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.”

Also attending yesterday’s meeting were White House National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and White House budget director Rob Portman, as well as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Reps. Jerry Lewis and David R. Obey. Mr. Lewis, of California, is the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee; Mr. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, is the panel’s chairman.

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