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Bush, Congress Prepare For Next Phase of Iraq Debate

The White House and Congress are starting to look beyond the current impasse over legislation to fund the Iraq war. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports both sides are starting to talk about ways to resolve the controversy.

This week, President Bush will sit down for the first time with Congressional leaders to talk specifically about the dispute over special legislation that would provide money to pay for the war in Iraq.

The Democratic majority in the House and Senate wants the $100 - billion funding bill to contain language that would spell out a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The president says that is unacceptable.

Mr. Bush says the Democratic Party leadership in Congress is pressing ahead with the legislation to make a political point. In an interview broadcast Sunday on the CBS television program, Face the Nation, Vice President Dick Cheney predicted the Democrats will back down.

"I don't think that a majority of the Democrats in the Congress want to leave America's fighting forces in harm's way without the resources they need," said Dick Cheney.

The vice president said Wednesday's White House meeting to discuss the impasse will give each side an opportunity to better understand the others' position. The Bush administration has stressed it is not about to negotiate with Congress on the troop withdrawal issue. But Cheney said officials do want to talk with Congressional leaders in try to - in his words - work out procedures that could get a bill to the president that he can sign.

"I think the fact of the matter is that the majority of Democrats on the other side of the aisle, once they've gone through the exercise and it's clear the President will veto the provisions that they want in, that they don't have the votes to override, then they will, in fact, give us the bill that's absolutely essential," he said.

Cheney said some Democratic leaders in Congress want to block all funding for the troops. He said that would be irresponsible. But he noted that the Democratic chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, has vowed that the money to fund the war will be provided.

Levin told the Fox News Sunday program that lawmakers are well aware that the Democrats will not be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. He indicated they are already looking at the possibility of coming up with a second bill that would not contain language on a troop withdrawal, but would add some kind of benchmarks.

"We will then hopefully, send him something strong in the area of benchmarks, which is the second best way of putting pressure on the president to put pressure on the Iraqis," said Carl Levin.

Advocates of the benchmark approach believe that by demanding Iraq's government meet deadlines, or benchmarks, for taking over security from U.S. troops it will allow the withdrawal of American forces sooner.

Senator Levin says the Iraqi government must realize that America's commitment is not open-ended. He said they must meet their own targets for reaching a political settlement that covers everything from power sharing to the distribution of Iraqi oil revenues.

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