WASHINGTON – President Bush renewed his veto threat on an Iraq spending bill on Wednesday in the face of a defiant Senate that is set to pass legislation that includes an order for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq beginning 120 days after the bill is signed into law.
That's never going to happen, Bush says.
"Here's the bottom line: the House and Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders, and an artificial timetable for withdrawal. And I have made it clear for weeks, if either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it," Bush said during a speech to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Bush said it is clear from the votes that a veto would be sustained. He also warned against toying with funding for the troops to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Congress continues to pursue these bills 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. They need to get that bill to my desk so I can sign into law," Bush said, adding that restrictions on commanders will make defeat more likely.
Bush's threat comes one day after Senate Democrats narrowly won a vote to keep in place a timetable that calls for the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq within 120 days of passage of the measure. It also offers a suggested by nonbinding goal of removing all combat troops by March 31, 2008.
An attempt to scuttle the timetable was offered as an amendment to the emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 50-48 vote to defeat the amendment was a reversal of a vote earlier this month that rejected a similar timetable. Democrats this time were able to swing the votes of Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, both of Nebraska, who previously voted against timetables. Like the last vote, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas opposed the timetable. Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon supported it.
With Democrats holding a slim majority — 50-49-1 — Republicans had trouble finding one Democrat to pick up the loss of Hagel and Nelson to force a tie vote. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman joined Republicans trying to pass the amendment to strike the timetable.
Before the vote, Nelson said he would reject the measure — offered up by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. — because it strikes several other "critical provisions, including language acknowledging that the situation in Iraq has become a civil war," as well as a call for diplomatic and political engagement by the Iraqi and American governments. The measure also called for suggested goals for the Iraqi government to provide for its own security, enhance democracy and distribute its oil wealth fairly.
"Such steps are necessary for success in Iraq and I do not support taking them out of the supplemental bill. Therefore, I will vote against this amendment," Nelson said.
The Senate is now poised to pass final language on the supplemental, which could be as early as Wednesday. Republicans have said they would not filibuster the supplemental.
With passage, both the House and Senate bills contain timetables and the two chambers will have to choose between the Senate bill and a House version, which calls for a Sept. 1, 2008, deadline for withdrawal.
After the vote, the White House issued a statement saying the president is "disappointed" that the Senate continues down a path on a bill it knows Bush will veto.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had hoped that the White House would "be willing to work with us" on language Democrats could accept, but "at this stage, he has been very non-negotiable. So we'll see what happens."
After the vote, Reid said, he hoped Bush will work with us so we can come up with something agreeable for both Democrats and the White House, but said he's not anxious to strip anything out of the bill.
Other Democrats said they wanted more from the legislation than the nonbinding March 2008 timetable.
"I want a deadline not only for commencing the withdrawal of our forces but also completing it rather than a target date," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
"This provision represents a 90-degree change of course from the president's policy of escalation in the middle of a civil war," he said, "I'm confident once the withdrawal of our troops begins, there will be no turning back."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Republican presidential hopeful, said war critics were proposing a withdrawal "just at the moment we're starting to turn things around in Iraq."
Campaigning in Tallahassee, Fla., McCain said he had to get back to Washington, D.C., to vote against "the definite date for surrender act."
He gave an upbeat assessment of events in Iraq since Bush announced an increase in troops last January, and said, "If we withdraw from Iraq prematurely, it would be the terrorists' greatest triumph."
The debate came on legislation that provides $122 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as domestic priorities such relief to hurricane victims and payments to farmers.
Separately, supporters of an increase in the minimum wage readied an effort to attach the measure to the spending bill, along with companion tax cuts that Republicans have demanded.
In four years, the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 U.S. troops and cost in excess of $300 billion. But Republicans blocked a nonbinding measure critical of Bush's decision to deploy an additional 21,500 troops.
Leahy, who voted in 2002 against authorizing military action to topple Saddam Hussein, said the current legislation was "our best chance of extricating ourselves from the quagmire of Iraq."
Republicans disagreed, strongly. "Wars cannot be run from these hallowed and comfortable and sanctified chambers 10,000 miles away from the war zone," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. "How about allowing the officers, the men and the commanders in the field who are engaged daily, risking their lives to bring peace and security to Iraq, determine when and how we can best turn over to the Iraqi security forces the critical job, the critical job of assuring security."
FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.