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House Fails to Overturn War Spending Veto

Washington Post | May 02, 2007 
William Branigin

The House of Representatives today sustained President Bush's veto of an emergency war spending bill, as the White House and lawmakers turned their attention to negotiating new legislation to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 222-203 vote to override Bush's veto fell far short of the two-thirds needed, effectively killing the $124 billion supplemental appropriations bill.

After the vote, congressional leaders from both parties met with Bush at the White House to start the process of negotiating a new bill. Afterward, the lawmakers said the meeting had been positive.

Before conferring with them, Bush told reporters: "Yesterday was a day that highlighted differences. Today's a day where we can work together to find common ground." He said he was naming White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman to work with members of both parties to reach agreement on a new funding bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after the meeting that it had been "very positive" and that Bush had "expressed his willingness to work together in good faith."

Both sides made their positions clear, she said, and "now it is time for us to try to . . . come together. But make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war, and we hope to do so in unison with the president of the United States."

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said: "We want to work with him and his people. And we will do that to the best of our ability, keeping in mind the responsibilities we have to do everything we can to end this war."

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, said outside the White House that he and Reid would meet with Bolten tomorrow "to see if we can begin to work out the way forward."

Saying that "the spirit in the room was good," McConnell told reporters there was consensus in the meeting with Bush that "we need to get this job done," preferably by Memorial Day.

Neither side would discuss details of their negotiating positions.

Republican congressional leaders earlier indicated they were amenable to "benchmarks" in the bill to measure progress by the Iraqi government in meeting political, economic and military goals. But Bush has adamantly refused to countenance any timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The bill he refused to sign yesterday would have required the administration to begin the "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops out of Iraq no later than Oct. 1, with a goal of removing all combat forces by April 1, 2008, except those carrying out security, training and counterterrorism missions.

The House vote, which rendered moot any Senate consideration of an override, unfolded largely along party lines. One member, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), a staunch opponent of the war who wants to cut off funding for it, voted "present."

In a message delivered to the House before the vote, Bush said the vetoed bill was not only unacceptable to him but unconstitutional because it infringed on his powers as commander in chief.

Bush and congressional Democrats blamed each other for delays in funding U.S. troops, and each side said it was now up to the other to break the impasse.

Hours before the House vote, Bush strongly defended his Iraq war policy in a speech to a contractors' convention in Washington, claiming progress in a plan to secure Baghdad. But he allowed that it has been "a frustrating war" and acknowledged that "casualties are likely to stay high."

Bush also offered a more limited definition of success in Iraq, characterizing it as "sectarian violence down." He told the Associated General Contractors of America: "Success is not 'no violence.' There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that's what we're trying to achieve." He did not elaborate on what would be an acceptable level of violence for Iraqis.

In his veto message to the House, Bush said the legislation, officially called the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007, was "objectionable because it would set an arbitrary date for beginning the withdrawal of American troops without regard to conditions on the ground; it would micromanage the commanders in the field by restricting their ability to direct the fight in Iraq; and it contains billions of dollars of spending and other provisions completely unrelated to the war."

He charged that the bill would mandate a "precipitous withdrawal" from Iraq, which he said "could embolden our enemies" and lead to a "safe haven" in that country for terrorists to attack the United States. He said the bill also contained unacceptable "micromanagement" that would "constrict how and where our armed forces could engage the enemy and . . . provide confusing guidance on which of our enemies the military could engage." Also unacceptable to him was the inclusion of "billions of dollars in spending and other provisions that are unrelated to the war, are not an emergency, or are not justified," he said.

"Finally, this legislation is unconstitutional because it purports to direct the conduct of the operations of the war in a way that infringes upon the powers vested in the presidency by the Constitution, including as commander in chief of the armed forces," Bush said.

House Democratic leaders strongly disputed Bush's charges in debate before today's vote.

"I had hoped that the president would see the light instead of turning a tin ear to the wishes of the American people and a blind eye to what is happening on the ground in Iraq," Pelosi said in a floor speech.

"The president said . . . that Congress is substituting our judgment for the judgments of commanders in the field 6,000 miles away," she said. "Wrong again, Mr. President. We're substituting our judgment for your judgment 16 blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue in the White House. We are substituting the judgment of this Congress for your failed judgment. The American people have lost faith in the president's conduct of the war."

Pelosi also said Bush was wrong to call the bill unconstitutional.

"Congress is exercising its right as a co-equal branch of government to work cooperatively with the president to end this war," she said. Of Bush's decision to send about 30,000 reinforcements to Iraq to help quell the country's rampant violence, she said: "This administration should get a clue. It's not working. This is the fourth surge they have proposed."

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said it was hypocritical of Republicans to accuse the appropriation bill's Democratic backers of political grandstanding, especially given that yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Bush's so-called "Mission Accomplished" speech on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, where he prematurely declared an end to major combat operations after arriving by jet and wearing a flight suit.

"He was politically posturing, trying to take credit for a great victory," Hoyer said. "No one in America believes that the mission has been accomplished. No one in America believes that we've had a success."

Hoyer also took issue with Bush's "micromanagement" claim. "We do not seek to micromanage our military," the House's second-ranking Democrat said. "Rather, we do continue to question the decisions of top administration officials, including, yes, the president, whose judgments regarding this war have proved repeatedly, almost without exception, wrong."

"This Congress must not continue to simply rubberstamp this administration's requests," he added.

In his speech to the contractors' convention this morning, Bush said some important indicators of progress in Iraq are "less visible" than spectacular car bombings and therefore tend to be ignored.

While sectarian killings have "dropped substantially" since a joint U.S.-Iraqi security plan was launched, Bush said, "the overall level of violence in Baghdad remains high," primarily because "al-Qaeda has ratcheted up its campaign of high-profile attacks."

"For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in the civil war," Bush said. "It's whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11."

He said: "The terrorists will continue to fight back. In other words, they understand what they're doing. And you know, casualties are likely to stay high."

Arguing against provisions of the bill he vetoed yesterday, Bush said: "Look, all the radicals and extremists in Iraq don't want to attack America. I'm not saying that. But many do. And . . . therein lies the danger to our country. Al-Qaeda terrorists who behead captives and order suicide bombings in Iraq would not simply be satisfied to see us gone. A retreat in Iraq would mean that they would likely follow us here."

Bush told the supportive gathering, "Even if you think it was a mistake to go into Iraq, it would be a far greater mistake to pull out now."

"This is a frustrating war," he added. "Nobody likes war. . . . I wish there was an easy way out. . . . But there is no easy way out. The easy road would be the wrong road, in my opinion."

Pulling U.S. troops out now "would bring short-term satisfaction at the cost of long-term disaster," Bush said. "And no matter how tempting it might be, it would be unforgivable for leaders in Washington to allow politics and impatience to stand in the way of protecting the American people. Success in this fight's going to be difficult. It will require sacrifice. It's going to require time."


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