WASHINGTON – President Bush is on a collision course with Democrats in Congress, who late Monday agreed to send him a timeline for withdrawal along with a $124.2 billion Iraq war emergency spending bill.
Before a standing room-only audience in the bowels of Capitol Hill, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., announced the end of a conference meeting between House and Senate lawmakers after less than an hour. No formal vote was held on the legislation, an indication the fate of the bill was already sealed before the members arrived.
The emphasis of the legislation is on a timetable, specifically the requirement that troops begin withdrawing by Oct. 1, 2007, with a goal, though not a mandate, to withdraw all combat forces within the subsequent six months. Troops could come out as early as this summer if the Iraqi government does not enact political and security reforms.
"This agreement provides us a new direction that will show the Iraqis that our committment is not endless. it sets us on a path with the best chance of achieving success in Iraq," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who led the meeting in place of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who was under the weather and unable to attend.
The bill also places restrictions on how the president can deploy troops that lack sufficient training or have not spent at least one year at home before rotating back into combat. The legislation includes an additional 60-day reporting requirement on Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq, to state how well Iraqis are doing on meeting Bush administration benchmarks.
As for the additional spending labeled pork by the White House, some of it has been removed from the bill. No money will go to farmers of peanuts, sugar beets or spinach.
Only Democrats formally signed the compromise supplemental legislation. Republicans called the troop withdrawal timetable an effort to undercut the commander in chief.
"Any president would veto this bill and would have to veto this bill to maintain the stability of the constitutional processes as far our national government is concerned," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
The end product of negotiations now heads to the House floor for a vote Wednesday and then to the Senate Thursday before heading to President Bush's desk for a promised veto. Bush, meeting with his national security team on Monday, including Petraeus, called the legislation a mistake because it sets up a date for defeat in Iraq.
"An artificial timetable of withdrawal would say to an enemy, just wait them out; it would say to the Iraqis, don't do hard things necessary to achieve our objectives; and it would be discouraging for our troops," Bush said.
The president added that despite a wave of violence last week, efforts to reduce sectarian violence have begun to work.
The president said much the same last week in Grand Rapids, Mich. Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid mocked him.
The White House transcript says the president made those remarks in the State of Michigan. I believe he made them in the state of denial," Reid said in a speech to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
Reid called Bush the "odd man out" on Iraq and vowed to use Congress to try to change what he said was Bush's "shoot first" diplomacy.
In a scathing speech seemingly aimed at shaming the president into calling for a withdrawal, Reid said the Bush administration is in denial about the war, incompetent in its conduct and unwilling to listen to alternatives.
"What a shame that after five-and-a-half years, so many lost lives and so much treasure depleted, President Bush hasn't budged from the shoot-first, talk-never style that one national magazine described as 'cowboy diplomacy' — that got us into this mess in the first place," Reid told
"The president has dug in his heels in this fight, but it doesn't have to be that way. ... Democrats are reaching out to Republicans in Congress in hopes of bipartisan cooperation. Only the president is the odd man out, and he is making the task even harder by demanding absolute fidelity from his party," Reid continued.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino shot back, saying Reid's "new" approach seems a little stale.
"Senator Reid seems to be in a state of confusion," Perino said. "He said the president 'ignored' the Iraq Study Group by sending more troops to secure Baghdad when the Iraq Study Group report said it would support this step. Senator Reid also called for a regional conference when one is already set to begin in days, called for emphasizing political reconciliation in Iraq when the Senate's own bill cuts $243 million vital for political reconciliation, and said his meetings with the president are unproductive despite characterizing his discussion with the president last Wednesday as a 'good exchange' minutes after the meeting concluded."
While some Republicans have withered under the continued support, they are not breaking ranks to help override a presidential veto.
Bush has said that he is willing to work with Congress, but not let lawmakers micro-manage the war. Reid said Bush is not interested in listening to advice from the opposition party.
"Instead of sending us back to square one with a veto, some tough talk and nothing more, let him come to the table in the spirit of bipartisanship that Americans demand and deserve," Reid said.
It is a near certainty when the vetoed bill returns from the White House, Democrats will have to remove the timeline. One Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee member told FOX News that is exactly what will happen.
"When it comes back, the dates come out," said Sen Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who has always indicated his discomfort with "dates certain."
FOX News' Major Garrett and Trish Turner contributed to this report.