Bush urges talks over war funding, warns clock is ticking
Source: Agence France Presse 04/10/2007
FAIRFAX, Virginia, April 10, 2007 (AFP) -
US President George W. Bush on Tuesday invited leading US lawmakers to talks to end a stalemate over funding the unpopular war in Iraq, warning there was no time to lose.
Leading Democrats, while not refusing the invitation outright, said they would reject any talks with preset conditions in the dispute over a war spending bill that includes a schedule for troop pullout from Iraq.
"When it comes to funding our troops, we have no time to waste," Bush said, inviting "leaders from ... both political parties, to meet with me at the White House next week."
"I know we have our differences over the best course. These differences should not prevent us from getting our troops the funding they need," he said during a visit to war veterans in Fairfax, Virginia, close to Washington.
Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, are trying to end the war in Iraq by tying military funding to a withdrawal of US troops in 2008.
The House and Senate, which have both passed bills with different deadlines, must iron out the differences between their bills and send one to the president for his signature to become law.
With Iraq this week marking the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would reject any talks with preset conditions.
"The president is inviting us to the White House with preconditions. It's not the way we should operate. He must deal with Congress, we are an independent branch of government," Reid said.
The White House was careful to make clear that the invitation did not signal any readiness to compromise, and Bush repeated his vow to veto any legislation that ties release of war spending funds to a timetable for troop withdrawal.
"We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill, a bill that funds our troops, without an artificial timetable for withdrawal and without handcuffing our generals on the ground," Bush said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino stressed that the president's invitation was "not a meeting in order to compromise."
"This is a meeting to discuss the way forward. Because the Democrats have to admit that they don't have the votes to override the president's veto. And at the same time they say that they want to fund the troops," she added.
"Maybe they need to hear again from the president about ... why he thinks that it is foolish to set arbitrary timetables for withdrawal."
In a joint statement Reid issued with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, they said "any discussion of an issue as critical as Iraq must be accomplished by conducting serious negotiations without any preconditions.
"The president is demanding we renew his blank check for war without end ... we renew our request to work with him to produce a bipartisan bill that provides our troops and our veterans with every penny they need, but in turn, demands accountability."
Perino called the Democrats' statement "a knee-jerk reaction that's unfortunate."
Bush has called on a skeptical public to give his new "surge" strategy time to work, saying the commanders on the ground in Iraq were already seeing "encouraging signs" that an extra 25,000 troops being deployed in the country were helping to secure Baghdad.
"The Democrats who pass these bills know that I'll veto them, and they know that this veto will be sustained. Yet they continue to pursue the legislation. And as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field," Bush warned.
He said the military would soon notify Congress, which holds the power of the purse, that the army would need to transfer 1.6 billion dollars from other military accounts to cover the shortfall.
This was on top of 1.7 billion dollars already transferred in March, the president said.
If by May no bill on funding the war has been passed into law, the army could have to slow or freeze funding for depots where equipment is repaired and mull a delay to military training programs, Bush said.
"These actions are only the beginning. And the longer Congress delays, the worse the impact on the men and women of the armed forces will be," Bush said.