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US Democrats, Republicans Haggle Over Iraq, Government Spending

Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress remain far apart over a number of contentious issues, including uncompleted government spending bills, President Bush's request for more money for military operations in Iraq and legislation to revise laws on warrantless electronic surveillance under President Bush's anti-terrorist measures. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

Continuing disagreements were apparent in news conferences and briefings by the Democratic and Republican leaderships in the House and Senate.

House Democratic leaders say they plan to bring two bills back to the House floor, a children's health bill vetoed by President Bush, and controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation that has been the focus of negotiations with the White House.

On government operations, which are running at 2007 budget levels under what is called a continuing resolution, Congress has not yet passed numerous annual appropriations bills with time running short in the congressional session.

President Bush added to the budget battle new request for $46 billion in new funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is in addition to $460 billion in regular Pentagon spending.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called on majority Democrats not to, in her words, play politics with war funding, urging Congress to approve the President's additional funding request that would bring 2008 supplemental spending to just over $196 billion. "The president is going to call on them to get this work done before they leave for the holidays. It is the least they can do for the troops and hopefully the troops families will know that by the holidays they are going to be taken care of." she said.

Democratic appropriations chairmen Congressman David Obey and Senator Robert Byrd have vowed to scrutinize every part of the president's request.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer criticized the president Tuesday, saying Democrats will continue to press for substantial changes in White House Iraq policy.

Congressman Rahm Emanuel used a news conference to contrast spending on Iraq with children's health care needs. "Ten billion dollars a month for the war. Ten billion dollars a month. Two years ago it was five billion. For 41 days for the cost of the war, 10 million children in America would get their health care for a full year. For one month, for the cost of the war, 7.2 million American children would get their full health care for a year."

Republicans have tried to label Democrats as irresponsible in their handling of legislation, including the Democrat-crafted electronic surveillance measure and children's health.

While he agrees that lawmakers should closely examine war spending requests, Senate minority whip Trent Lott blames Democrats for the failure of Congress to get bills to the president.

"I would urge the Democratic leadership to schedule these conferences, send these bills to the president, and schedule other appropriations bill for consideration in the Senate. We have the time, we could to it, but we apparently are not going to have many opportunities to even take up the remaining appropriations bills," he said.

Lott says that means Congress will likely have to come up with one large bill known as an omnibus, to fund government operations for the 2008 fiscal year, a measure the president may end up vetoing as he has threatened to do with individual appropriations measures that exceed his budgetary limit.

Democratic leaders say they are prepared to address some concerns the president had when he rejected the children's health measure.

Congressman Hoyer says House Democrats intend to move the electronic surveillance bill forward, regardless of the status of negotiations on a Senate version between lawmakers there and the White House.