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Democrats Urge Shifting US Troops to Focus on Terrorist Threats in Pakistan, Afghanistan

Congressional Democrats want President Bush to move more U.S. troops out of Iraq because they say that will better focus the military on terrorist threats in Pakistan and Afghanistan. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush says he will block efforts to link additional funding for the Iraqi war with a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Democrats used their weekly radio address to again call on President Bush to get more American forces out of Iraq.

"Congress is challenging the administration's strategy in Iraq in favor of a better one that will effectively combat terrorism and create stability in the Middle East," said Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic Congresswoman from New York. "Time and time again, we voted for a strategy to redeploy troops out of Iraq, to leave policing the streets to Iraqis and to focus our mission on anti-terrorism, and we won't give up."

Before concluding their legislative business for the year, Democrats backed down on efforts to make Iraq war funds conditional on a troop pull out, because President Bush threatened to veto any measure that sought to link the two. Republicans ultimately pushed through $70 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without conditions.

The president is rejecting a broader defense authorization because he objects to provisions that would expose the Iraqi government to lawsuits seeking damages from the time of former dictator Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush refused to sign that legislation Friday because, he said, it would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at what he says is a "crucial juncture in that nation's reconstruction efforts."

The president continues to try and rebuild support for a war that public opinion polls say a majority of Americans believe was a mistake. A CBS News/New York Times survey this month shows that more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling the war.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Mr. Bush turned to domestic issues, seeking to reassure Americans about the overall strength of the U.S. economy at a time of consumer concern over tightening credit and a slowdown in the housing market.

"Some of you worry about your ability to afford health care coverage for your families," he said. "Some of you are concerned about meeting your monthly mortgage payments. Some of you worry about the impact of rising energy costs on fueling your cars and heating your homes. You expect your elected leaders in Washington to address these pressures on our economy and give you more options to help you deal with them."

The president says Congress passed a good energy bill, a temporary solution to a middle class tax hike, and a law that will help protect families from higher taxes when lenders reduce mortgage debt. But he criticized Democrats for including in the $555 billion omnibus budget more than nine-thousand special interest items that fund specific programs favored by lawmakers.

Democrats say much of that specially-targeted funding came from Republicans. Since Democrats took charge of Congress one year ago, Congresswoman Gillibrand says, they have increased automobile fuel economy standards and raised the minimum wage.