WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney says he is "willing to bet" that Democratic lawmakers will back down and approve a war-spending bill that doesn't call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Top Democratic leaders shot back that Cheney has lost all public credibility.
With President Bush and Congress in a stalemate — he plans to veto legislation that orders U.S. troops home, which the House and Senate plan to send him — both sides are looking ahead. In an interview broadcast Sunday, Cheney predicted the Democrats will blink.
He said Congress will end up passing a "clean" bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without any troop withdrawal timetables. Democrats control Congress, but they do not appear to have the votes to override a presidential veto.
"They will not leave the troops in the field without the resources they need," Cheney said of the Democrats.
Asked what would happen if they don't back down, Cheney said: "I'm willing to bet the other way — that, in fact, they will."
"There may be some people who are so irresponsible that they wouldn't support that," Cheney said. But the majority will send Bush the bill he wants "once they've gone through the exercise and it's clear the president will veto the provisions that they want in," he said.
However, the Senate Armed Services Committee's chairman said Congress won't relent in winding down the war.
If Bush vetoes a bill calling for troop reductions, Democratic lawmakers would likely come back with a second try that requires the Iraqi government to meet performance benchmarks or face consequences, said Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. Iraq's leadership is struggling to make the progress it has promised on political reconciliation, distribution of the country's oil wealth and other vital goals.
"We are very, very serious about what the American people said in November," Levin said, referring to the election that put Democrats in charge of Congress. "They want a change of course."
Cheney's blistering criticism of Democrats, the latest in a series of recent speeches and interviews, drew harsh words from Levin.
"He has misled the people consistently on Iraq," Levin said. "He has misstated. He has exaggerated. And I don't think he has any credibility left with the American people."
The uncooperative tone comes just as Bush plans to meet bipartisan leaders of Congress this week at the White House.
The purpose of that session on Wednesday is to discuss how to get a war-funding bill done, yet no negotiation is expected.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, four bombs exploded in predominantly Shiite sections of Baghdad on Sunday. They killed at least 37 people in a renewal of sectarian carnage that set back the U.S. push to pacify the capital. The latest violence came three days after an explosion set off by a suicide bomber ripped through a cafeteria at the Iraqi parliament, a stunning attack inside Baghdad's U.S.-guarded Green Zone.
Cheney, though, said U.S. and Iraqi forces are making progress.
"I do believe we can win in Iraq," he said. "I think it is a worthy cause. I think it's absolutely essential that we prevail."
The House and Senate are expected to negotiate war spending legislation this week. The Democratic proposal would approve $96 billion in military money, mostly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and set a timetable for troop withdrawal.
"The American people know that the height of irresponsibility is to put this country at risk by mismanaging a war from day one," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. He, too, said Cheney "has long since lost credibility."
Attempting to pressure Democrats, the White House publicly counts each day that Congress does not pass the emergency war spending bill. Top military commanders contend the delay will soon begin to weaken troop preparedness and keep some soldiers in combat longer.
Majority Democrats say it is only a matter of time before they will get their way. Senior Democrats are calculating that if they keep the pressure on, eventually more Republicans will jump ship and challenge the president — or lose their seats to Democratic contenders.
The Senate bill would require a U.S. troop exit in Iraq to begin within 120 days, with a completion goal of March 31, 2008. The House bill would order all combat troops out by Sept. 1, 2008. Most Republicans stand with Bush on grounds that a timetable is a dangerous war policy.
"Now is the time to pour it on politically, economically and militarily, and build on this momentum," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who recently visited Iraq. "We're not going to let car bombers define the fate of Iraq."
Cheney's interview, taped Saturday, was on CBS' "Face the Nation." Levin and Graham spoke on "Fox News Sunday."