WASHINGTON – President Bush on Saturday accused Democrats who are moving anti-war legislation through Congress of using troops as leverage to win domestic political battles.
"Unfortunately, some in Congress are using this bill as an opportunity to micromanage our military commanders, force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and spend billions on domestic projects that have nothing to do with the War on Terror," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Many in Congress say they support the troops, and I believe them. Now they have a chance to show that support in deed, as well as in word."
Bush repeated his promise that his request for funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must be approved "without strings and without delay" or he will veto it.
Two months ago, Bush ordered 21,500 more U.S. troops to Baghdad and Anbar Province to crack down on rising sectarian violence and insurgents. He did not initially mention that support units would also be needed, but officials said later that the number of support troops could be around 7,000.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Saturday the nation needs a new direction, "not more of the same failures." In the weekly Democratic radio address, she touted a Democratic plan to narrow the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq and begin redeployment of U.S. troops within four months.
"Regrettably, our effort was blocked by Senate Republicans and a president who stubbornly refused to listen," Murray said, adding that Democrats will keep pushing in Congress until there is a change of course in Iraq.
Democrats will have another opportunity next week, when the full House begins work on the war spending request, which covers costs for this year.
A House committee on Thursday approved the spending bill. It includes a troop withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008. It also requires that troops receive proper training, equipment and rest, although Bush is permitted to waive those provisions.
Bush said all of those "arbitrary and restrictive conditions" are unacceptable.
"These restrictions would handcuff our generals in the field by denying them the flexibility they need to adjust their operations to the changing situation on the ground," he said. "And these restrictions would substitute the mandates of Congress for the considered judgment of our military commanders."
He also said that setting a withdrawal deadline would bring disastrous consequences.
The spending bill totals $124 billion, $95.5 billion of which is targeted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The rest of the funds in the House bill would be distributed among domestic programs unrelated to the wars — health care for veterans and low-income children, aid to agriculture and more.
Republicans said that was a thinly disguised attempt to win support from reluctant Democrats with pork-barrel spending. Democrats said the extra money was for legitimate needs.
"Congress must not allow debate on domestic spending to delay funds for our troops on the front lines," the president said. "And members should not use funding our troops as leverage to pass special interest spending for their districts."
Murray, the Senate's fourth-ranking Democrat, also criticized the Bush administration over its treatment of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Citing poor conditions and neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Murray said: "Meeting the needs of our brave men and women in uniform should be the first order of business. But for this president, it has been only an afterthought — and our troops are paying the price."