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Bush Promises to Veto Iraq Deadline


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The war of words between the White House and congressional Democrats escalated today. At a Rose Garden news conference, President Bush accused lawmakers of failing in their responsibility to fund U.S. troops in a time of war. With polls showing that a majority of Americans want the war over, leading Democrats have dug in their heels, insisting on legislation that calls for the war to wind down. We'll talk to one of those Democrats in a few minutes.

First, NPR's David Greene reports from the White House.

DAVID GREENE: The president invited reporters into the Rose Garden to stand and listen as he sent a new warning to Democrats. He said he is not satisfied with the war funding bill that passed narrowly in the House and Senate, and if a final piece of legislation looks anything like either of those bills he says he won't sign it. The Democrats demands for drawdowns and troop strength are, Mr. Bush said, nothing more than a political dance.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Democratic 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 business of funding our troops without strings and without delay.

GREENE: Any delay, the president argued, will mean tough times for the military in general. They'll have to cut equipment and training programs, he says, meaning some Guard and Reserve forces might not be ready to go to Iraq. Now, Democrats had said he is being alarmist, and a non-partisan congressional study concluded that the Army has money to pay for operations in Iraq well into the summer.

But the president also argued that now is a crucial moment. He said Democrats are holding up money just as additional U.S. forces are making a difference. The president said that's the report from the top U.S. ground commander, David Petraeus.

President BUSH: And General Petraeus, who is a reasoned, sober man, says that there is some progress being made. And he cites, you know, murders and, you know, in other words, just some calm coming to the capital. But he also fully recognizes, as do I, it's still dangerous.

GREENE: More dangerous than the president admits, according to Democratic leaders in what they called a fat check released after Mr. Bush spoke. Democrats said Mr. Bush's troop surge isn't working and that 172 U.S. service members have been killed since the surge was ordered. Before finishing up in the Rose Garden, the president returned to a well-worn argument that the war in Iraq will help prevent another attack like 9/11.

President BUSH: You know, what's interesting is you don't hear a lot of debate about Washington as to what will happen if there is failure.

GREENE: If Mr. Bush does veto a war-spending bill, the finger pointing will begin between him and Democrats. This whole debate is beginning to sound a lot like the winter of 1995-96, when President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich sparred over who shut down the federal government.

President BILL CLINTON: Congress has said it will pass emergency legislation to keep the government going and paying its bills only if we increase Medicare, cut education, cut the environment, take other unacceptable steps.

Representative NEWT GINGRICH (Republican, Georgia): Now, one of the major problems in America is we have a president who doesn't mind playing, he doesn't mind talking, but he seems to hate working. We're working.

GREENE: A decade later, Democrats are in charge of Congress and don't seem to be backing down. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said if Mr. Bush cast a veto, he'll up the ante and push a vote on a bill to deny funds for combat troops as of this time next year.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.