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Bush Vetoes Iraq Funding Bill.

President Bush on May 1 vetoed a $124 bn war spending bill, setting up a second round in his long battle with congressional Democrats who are determined to use the financing measure to force the White House to shift course in Iraq. The veto was only the second of Bush's presidency.

In a six-minute televised speech, Bush called the measure a "prescription for chaos and confusion", and said, as he had for weeks, that he could not sign it because it contained timetables for troop withdrawal. He said: "Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure, and that would be irresponsible". He said the measure would "impose impossible conditions on our commanders in combat" by forcing them to "take fighting directions from politicians 6,000 miles away in Washington, DC".

The veto added new punctuation to a major war powers clash between Democrats in Congress, buoyed by what they regard as a mandate in the Nov. 7 mid-term elections and seeking to force an end to the fighting in Iraq, and a president working to defy what he regards as an incursion on his authority as commander in chief. Democrats concede they do not have enough votes to override the veto. But, speaking in the Capitol shortly after Bush's remarks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said they would not be deterred from pushing the president as hard as they could to bring the troops home. Reid said: "If the president thinks by vetoing this bill he will stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken. Now he has an obligation to explain his plan to responsibly end this war".The fight began more than two months ago, when Bush sent Congress his request for emergency financing for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A new chapter began on May 2, when congressional leaders met Bush at the White House to open negotiations on a new bill. They were looking for ways to preserve the benchmarks for Iraqi progress included in the initial bill, while eliminating the timetables for troop withdrawal which Bush has emphatically rejected.

Several Republican leaders on May 1 said they were likely to support such benchmarks, and White House aides on May 1 said Bush, who has supported goals and benchmarks for the Iraqi government, might back such a measure - but only if the benchmarks were non-binding.

Bush issued the veto from the Oval Office at about 5:30 pm, using a pen given to him by the father of a fallen Marine. It came just hours after Democrats had themselves staged an unusual signing ceremony in the Capitol, timed to coincide with the four-year anniversary of the so-called Mission Accomplished speech, when Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.

Bush spent much of the day in Tampa, Florida, at MacDill Air Force Base, headquarters of the US Central Command (CentCom), which co-ordinates Iraq operations. While he did not directly address the Iraq spending bill there, he warned that an early exit could turn Iraq into "a cauldron of chaos".

Though Bush's plan to veto the measure had been clear for nearly two months, Democratic leaders in Congress even in the final hours urged the president to change his mind. Even as the political stagecraft played out on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on May 1, there were signs that Republicans and Democrats might be able to compromise on establishing benchmarks for the Iraqi government to show progress. But it remained an open question whether broad agreement was possible within Congress, much less with the White House, about whether to insist on consequences if those benchmarks were not met. Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said: "There are a number of Republicans who do think that some kind of benchmarks, properly crafted, would actually be helpful". Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip, did not reject the concept of establishing benchmarks but said any hard-and-fast timetables or deadlines would be resisted, adding: "Our members will not accept restraint on the military".

Financing for the troops is likely to run out by June. With the Democrats still wrestling over what approach to take, some are discussing passing two bills, one to provide short-term financing for the troops and the other to deal with questions of Iraq policy.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told reporters travelling aboard Air Force One: "It's a trumped-up political stunt". Others grumbled privately that Congress had sent plenty of bills to Bush without such pomp and circumstance. Representative Lynn Westmoreland, Republican of Georgia, said: "We've got the lights, we've got the characters, we've got the action for some fine political theater in the House of Representatives today. It's time for the majority to take off their costumes and exit stage left. We owe it to our nation and our troops to see the ending of this story". In Tampa, Bush made his case for the spending bill without ever specifically mentioning it. After huddling with US military commanders, including Lt Gen David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, Bush addressed a conference of representatives from some of the roughly 90 countries which the US considers allies in the global campaign against terrorism. He said: "Failure in Iraq should be unacceptable to the civilised world. The risks are enormous". He added that there were "signs of hope" even though the troop build-up was in its early stages. >The veto, announced by Bush at 6:10 pm, just before the network news broadcasts began, was quickly seized on by Democratic groups.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a group partly financed through labour union money, presented a TV advertisement criticising the White House and congressional Republicans. The group planned a series of rallies across the country.

In the Capitol, several Democrats and Republicans said they were eager to find common ground on the Iraq spending bill and bring an end to the four-month bitter fight. Sen. Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, said: "Unfortunately, people are getting locked down in their respective positions. The White House wants to have open-ended latitude on how to conduct a war, but I don't think that is simply an option at this point".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Date:May 7, 2007
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