President Bush has renewed his threat to veto a bill before Congress that would fund the Iraq war, but would also set a deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports it is the latest escalation in tensions between the White House and the Democratic Party majority on Capitol Hill.
President Bush says money for the war is desperately needed. But he says he will block any effort by Congress to mandate a withdrawal.
"It makes no sense for politicians in Washington D.C. to be dictating arbitrary timelines for our military commanders in a war zone 6,000 miles away," he said.
The House of Representatives has passed legislation calling for a mandatory withdrawal by August 31, 2008. The Senate version of the bill - still under debate - sets a non-binding deadline of March 31, 2008.
Mr. Bush says both versions are unacceptable, even though they provide billions of dollars for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. And he charges Democrats are pushing the bills through the legislature to make a political point, even though they know they do not have the two-thirds majority needed to override his veto.
"Congress continues to pursue these bills," he said. "And as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field. Funding for our forces in Iraq will begin to run out in mid-April. Members of Congress need to stop making political statements and start providing vital funds for our troops."
The president calls the legislation the worst kind of congressional meddling in military strategy - one with disastrous consequences.
"Now, some of them believe that by delaying funding for our troops, they can force me to accept restrictions on our commanders that I believe would make withdrawal and defeat more likely. That is not going to happen," he said.
But the top Democrat in the Senate - Majority Leader Harry Reid - is also standing firm. He says the president needs to realize just how serious Congress is about its desire for a change of course in Iraq.
"He is the president and we are the Congress," Reid said. "I would hope that he would be willing to work with us in coming up with some language both bodies could accept."
The president spoke to a conference of ranchers and others involved in the cattle industry.
Mr. Bush also used the occasion to push his trade agenda, calling for Congress to approve new trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama, and to extend his fast track trade negotiating authority.
Fast track means that Congress gives up the right to amend any trade deals struck by the president, and agrees to consider them with a simple up or down vote.