WASHINGTON – President Bush scolded lawmakers on Thursday for going on vacation without passing his nearly $200 billion emergency spending request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a compromise may be near on a funding deal.
The president has threatened to veto a proposed three-month, $50 billion emergency funding bill to keep operations in Iraq and Afghanistan up and running through February because it calls for bringing most troops home from Iraq next year and sets training standards and minimum rest periods for them.
It also forbids CIA interrogators from using waterboarding, which critics say crosses the line between tough interrogation and torture. The legislation has passed the House, but not the Senate.
Bush warned lawmakers not to vacate Washington without funding the troops.
"I ask Congress to provide this essential funding to our troops before members leave on their Christmas vacation," Bush said during a Pentagon visit.
For more than a month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been shifting money from training military base operations and equipment maintenance to pay for the war. Bush said Thursday that formula can't continue.
The defense secretary "has directed the Army and Marine Corps to develop a plan to lay off civilian employees, to terminate contracts and to prepare our military bases across the country for reduced operations," Bush said.
Congressional leaders in charge of defense appropriations say they are willing to compromise on a spending formula, but certain items are not up for negotiation.
— Soldiers must be fully equipped and fully trained.
— Government employees must follow the Army Field Manual guidelines prohibiting torture.
— Bush must come up with "a responsible plan" to get troops out of Iraq by December 2008.
"We cannot stay in Iraq forever. The president should accept these conditions and come up with a responsible plan to bring our troops home," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis.
Obey has been working with war critic Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, on funding for the war. They have repeatedly said the $50 billion is all the president's going to get this year.
But after returning from a quick visit to Iraq, Murtha conceded Thursday that it's unlikely the U.S. can wipe its footprint from Iraq by the end of 2008.
A key player in the Iraq debate, Murtha predicted that the House Democratic leadership may compromise on the timetable language attached to the funding measure.
At an afternoon press conference from his district office in Johnstown, Murtha said logistically, it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. military to get out of Iraq before the end of 2009.
"We can't get the equipment out in less than two years. It's not logical, unless we leave an awful lot of equipment there, to think that we can get everything out by the end of next year. That's where I think the compromise can be," he said. A spokesman later confirmed to FOX News that the troops don't necessarily have to move out the equipment themselves.
Despite the change in tone, the subcommittee chairman made clear he does "not say that there is going to be a compromise," but that he is encouraged that a "deal was possible" after a Wednesday morning telephone conversation with the White House point man on Iraq, Gen. Doug Lute.
Murtha said Lute listened to what he had to say. Murtha said he "got the impression that he'd take that back to the president."
Ironically, even war critics agree the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq is paying off. After a spike in U.S. casualties this spring, the deaths of U.S. servicemen and women have fallen to the lowest rate in more than a year and a half. Hundreds of Iraq refugees are also returning home from neighboring countries.
Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed out Iraq's government has not taken advantage of the security gains to schedule provincial elections equalize the distribution of oil revenue and improve the constitution. She also accused Bush's allies in Congress are holding up funding for the troops.
"The president spoke of the need for Congress to work together to ensure that our troops and their families have the support they need. In that spirit, I call upon the president to instruct Senate Republicans to stop blocking consideration of the House funding bill. It is their obstruction that is producing the uncertainty for our troops and their families that the president voiced concern about today.
The White House said Congress isn't doing any better than the Iraqis when it comes to legislation.
"They complain about Iraq — the Iraqis were able to pass a budget. It's almost completed. Ours is of nowhere near completed," said spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Murtha said that kind of talk makes compromise difficult. He maintained that the the military is stretched too thin, the troops are worn out from too many tours of duty and equipment is not being replaced.
"We can no longer afford to spend $14 billion a month on this war and let our readiness slip," he said.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and Molly Hooper contributed to this report.