WASHINGTON – President Bush, urging Congress to craft a war spending bill quickly, offered no clues Saturday about whether he'll compromise over linking U.S. support to stability in Iraq.
Bush and Congress have been talking about how to agree on a bill to finance combat operations through September. The president demands the money without strings attached, but Democrats say Bush eventually must accept some conditions on the U.S. commitment to the unpopular war.
Earlier this week, Bush vetoed a $124 billion bill that would have provided money for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while requiring troops to begin returning home by Oct. 1.
"I vetoed the bill Congress sent me because it set a fixed date to begin to pull out of Iraq, imposed unworkable conditions on our military commanders and included billions of dollars in spending unrelated to the war," Bush said in his weekly radio address.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Bush's veto would not deter Democrats from finding other ways to achieve their two goals of fully supporting the troops while dramatically changing the U.S. mission in Iraq.
"Mr. President, we know you oppose the resolution that Congress sent you last week, but on behalf of the American people and our soldiers, we ask you to work with us to find a way to both fund the troops and change the mission," Schumer said Saturday in the Democrats' weekly radio address.
After vetoing the bill, Bush dispatched three of his top aides to Capitol Hill to negotiate with Democrats. Those talks are to resume early next week.
Bush said that while Republicans and Democrats will not always agree on the war, the consequences of failure in Iraq are clear.
"If we were to leave Iraq before the government can defend itself, there would be a security vacuum in the country," Bush warned. "Extremists from all factions could compete to fill that vacuum, causing sectarian killing to multiply on a horrific scale."
Schumer said Democrats won't back down in their push to persuade Bush to change U.S. policy in Iraq so American troops can get out of the business of policing a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.
"I know how strongly the president feels that he is right, but if he looked at the facts on the ground, he would come to the conclusion that most Americans have — we need a change in direction," Schumer said.
The president urged Congress to give the new war strategy he announced in January a chance to work.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is leading the military buildup of 21,500 more U.S. troops in Iraq. The administration hopes the extra security provided by the troops in Baghdad and Anbar Province will give the Iraqis time to mend sectarian fractures within the government and resolve other reconciliation issues.
"This strategy is still in its early stages, and Congress needs to give Gen. Petraeus' plan a chance to work," Bush said.