WASHINGTON – President Bush criticized a proposed Senate compromise on his Iraq war resolution Tuesday, saying it would tie his hands. Congressional leaders intensified efforts to find common ground ahead of a potentially divisive Senate debate but said differences remained.
The administration reacted skeptically to a new agreement between Baghdad and U.N. arms inspectors. "We will not be satisfied with Iraqi half-truths or Iraqi compromises or Iraqi efforts to get us back into the same swamp," Secretary of State Colin Powell declared in an early evening appearance in the State Department briefing room.
"Pressure works, and we're going to keep it up," he added as the administration pressed its campaign for a strong U.N. resolution to disarm Baghdad. Bush challenged the Security Council to "show its backbone."
"We're just not going to accept something that is weak," Bush said.
Meanwhile, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer brushed aside a congressional estimate that war with Iraq could cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $6 billion to $9 billion a month. The cost could be as little as "one bullet," Fleischer said, should the Iraqi people take the initiative to depose Saddam Hussein themselves.
Bush pushed forward on a two-track approach, seeking the strongest possible wording in resolutions before both Congress and the United Nations.
He summoned House members of both parties to the White House, and they emerged saying they were close to agreement. "They're down literally to the last few words," said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Bush was to meet with top Senate and House leaders on Iraq Wednesday.
House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt's spokesman, Erik Smith, said they had offered new language to the White House Tuesday night and were waiting for a response. "Our folks are confident they are very close," he said.
The Senate could begin debate on the Iraq measure as early as Wednesday. The House is expected to take it up next week.
However, if the measure gets bogged down in the Senate, the House -- where support for the president's position is stronger -- could wind up taking the lead, administration and GOP congressional aides suggested.
Both Democratic and Republican Senate leaders said approval of a resolution authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraq appears likely, but that negotiations continued over wording of the final version.
"I would like very much to work out some agreed-to language," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "We're not there yet."
Democrats and some moderate Republicans are resisting giving Bush a free hand, and want to put more emphasis on the role of the United Nations. They also want to emphasize disarming Baghdad over a change in regime.
Both sides suggested that Bush had the votes to prevail in both the Democratic-led Senate and the GOP-led House, however, and the main issue became whether he would make concessions to increase Democratic support.
An attempt at a compromise by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the panel's second-ranking Republican, appeared to have considerable support.
But Bush suggested he couldn't accept it as written. "I don't want to get a resolution which ties my hands," Bush told reporters. But he said he would continue to work with Congress on the wording "and I'm confident we'll get something done."
Late Tuesday, Biden announced that his panel would meet on Wednesday morning to take up his and Lugar's proposed alternative version -- a move that could further complicate the Senate's schedule on the measure.
The Biden-Lugar proposal would encourage Bush to exhaust his diplomatic efforts at the United Nations before using force and would make clear that dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would be the primary reason for using force.
"No one has dismissed the resolution to me ... It's still in play," Biden said.
"They're taking note of our thoughts about this," said Lugar.
Lugar met on Tuesday with Powell and with Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser. Biden said he had had "extensive discussions" with Rice.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he was also working on a draft resolution that would allow U.S. military action only in conjunction with a U.N. resolution. "I can't at this time support a go-it-alone approach," he said.
In other developments:
-- House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., announced his committee would take up the Iraq war resolution on Wednesday. The president is not expected to have a hard time getting his essential version through the GOP-ruled House.
-- House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who has staked out a more cautious position on the issue of war with Iraq than most of his GOP colleagues, said he still has problems with the wisdom of a first-strike attack. "Do you kill the snake when it stays in its hole? This is a tough question," he told reporters.